- The Washington Times - Friday, October 15, 2004

Conservative and liberal religious groups both applauded the multiple questions on faith posed to both presidential candidates on Wednesday night, but said the answers were vague and offered no new information.

“President Bush seemed, if anything, a little more reticent on how he described his faith,” said Mark Tooley, United Methodist affairs director for the Institute of Religion and Democracy. “He seemed to minimize how it affects his public-policy actions.

“Kerry just said he was Catholic and an altar boy and that his faith was important to him but it was personal. Both were vague; neither were profound.”

James Standish, director of legislative affairs for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, said it was not clear how Sen. John Kerry’s faith impacts his policies.

“He indicated his faith instructs him to work for peoples’ health care benefits, but he feels uncomfortable using the same rationale relating to abortion and other controversial issues,” he said. “Where does one point end and the other begin?



“The president has not enunciated where the line is drawn either, so the rhetoric — as they talk around the issue — remains fuzzy. Neither of them have enunciated the line between how faith influences public actions and where it’s impermissible for faith to influence them.”

George Marlin, author of “The American Catholic Voter,” called “confusing” Mr. Kerry’s statement that “I believe that I can’t legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith.”

“The job of the president is to impose his views on our country, whether we like it or not,” Mr. Marlin said. “Every time Mr. Kerry makes a Senate vote, he is voting his beliefs. And for him to claim that he doesn’t want to impose his faith and his beliefs on another American who may believe differently is anemic.”

Besides questions on topics such as homosexual “marriage,” which had religiously flavored answers, moderator Bob Schieffer asked two explicitly religious questions during the debate.

The first, posed to Mr. Kerry, asked about Catholic bishops’ saying that pro-choice politicians are ineligible for Communion. The other was a more general question about how each man’s religion informs his public policies.

Two men took credit for the latter faith question: Free Congress Foundation President Paul Weyrich and the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, chairman of the Interfaith Alliance.

They wrote Mr. Schieffer a letter on Oct. 6, requesting that he ask the candidates what role faith plays in their policy decisions.

Mr. Gaddy was not available for comment, but Mr. Weyrich said the two candidates had clearly different approaches.

“Bush made it clear faith influences all his public-policy decisions. Kerry made it clear his faith does not,” he said. “You couldn’t have had a more clear-cut divide between the two.”

“President Bush came across as a very sincere, true, believing Christian who takes his religion seriously,” Mr. Weyrich said.

“I think Kerry came across as a confused, cafeteria Catholic who wants to assure women just because he’s a Catholic and just because the Catholic Church is pro-life, doesn’t mean that he’s going to be.”

Mr. Bush did not use the word “Christian,” but described his faith as “very personal” and said he prays “a lot.”

He also said, “You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an Almighty and if you choose not to,” a quote that delighted one American Humanist Association official.

“It was a welcome change,” said Fred Edwards, editor of the Humanist, a District-based magazine with a circulation of 18,000. “Both sides have treated us better than we’ve been treated in a long, long time.”

Citing a 2001 City University of New York Graduate Center study saying 14 percent of the American populace has no religion, he said, “Both candidates recognize that nontheistic thinkers are Americans, too, including Buddhists, freethinkers, humanists and some Unitarians.”

The “secular” voting bloc is “being seen as a legitimate group,” he added. “If they were not being seen, both candidates wouldn’t be making overtures to them.”

Maureen Shea, director of government relations for the Episcopal Church, noted that Mr. Bush concentrated on the private side of religion, whereas Mr. Kerry remarked on how it would affect some of his policies.

“It was very good on how they both recognized there’s many faith traditions being practiced in this country and were respectful of that,” she said.

Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America said Mr. Kerry’s statements about not wanting to impose the strictures of his Catholic faith on the general population hid his true colors.

“Senator Kerry reduced the issue of abortion — the killing of unborn children and exploitation of women — to an ‘article of faith’ then pointed out that the Bible states, ‘Faith without works is dead,’ ” she said.

“Kerry strangely failed to mention his own cornucopia of ‘works’ that is, his voting record on abortion.”

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