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November 4, 2000
Column #1001


     In an election which is as close as the race between George W. Bush and Al Gore, there have been two major attempts to influence religiously active voters. The largest and most publicized is the distribution of 70 million "voter guides" by the Christian Coalition.

     "These voter guides are not objective or fair, said the Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United For Separation of Church and State. "Instead they are partisan campaign propaganda. The Coalition's guides don't belong in church sanctuaries, they belong at the local recycling center." Americans United mailed letters to 285,000 churches warning them that they jeopardize their tax exempt status by distributing the guides prepared by the Coalition whose  president, Pat Robertson, once ran for the Republican Presidential nomination.

     Each voter guide is designed to be stuffed inside a church bulletin, and states that it "is provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as an endorsement of any candidate or political party." However, look at the Coalition's wording of the issues. 

     Bush is seen as supporting "Emphasizing Free Enterprise Solutions to Social Problems" and "Educational Choice for Parents (Vouchers)," which Gore opposes. Bush opposes "Control of Public Education by Powerful Unions" and "Unrestricted Abortion on Demand" which Gore allegedly favors. 

     Do those sound like neutrally worded issues to you?

     There are 165 different versions of Senatorial, Congressional and State voter guides. In Florida, for example, church-goers learn that Rep. Bill McCollum, who is running for the U.S. Senate, opposes having U.S. troops "serve under UN command." His opponent did not respond.

     The voter guides are not sent to Catholic churches which refuse to distribute them. What has been distributed is "Faithful Citizenship," a thoughtful paper by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. They note that the year 2000 marks the "2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus Christ," as well as the election.

     They said that for U.S. Catholics, these two events offer opportunity to "bring together the guidance of the Gospel and...our democracy to shape a society more respectful of human life and dignity, and more committed to justice and peace."

     They note that 1.4 million children are "destroyed before birth every year," one of the few issues on which they agree with the Christian Coalition. But they add that despite the nation's prosperity, the gap between the rich and the poor is widening and millions don't have health care. 

     The bishops remind Catholics that Jesus called us to love our neighbors by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick and afflicted: "Our Lord's example and words demand a life of charity from each of us." (In fact, Catholics are the largest non-governmental provider of education, health care and human services in America.)

     Therefore, the bishops asked the Presidential candidates if they would help the poor by reauthorizing welfare reform in a way to provide support for those beyond the 5 year limit imposed by the 1996 law. Neither Bush nor Gore responded, nor did they agree to provide more federal aid to make housing more affordable. The bishops asked about an increase in the minimum wage and day care, which both supported. 

     When asked about tax relief to low income working families, Bush said he would double the $500 per child tax credit to $1,000 while Gore would expand the Earned Income Tax Credit.

     Asked whether they would allow physicians to prescribe drugs to allow terminally ill patients to commit suicide, Gore made no comment while Bush said "all life has immeasurable dignity and should be protected from the moment of conception until natural death."

     The candidates differed on whether the legal status of marriage should be extended to same sex couples. Bush opposed it while Gore said he supports "legal protections for domestic partnerships and opposes any federal mandate to states on how to define marriage."

     (This will become a major issue. Of the 800 "civil unions" approved in Vermont since its breakthrough law took effect, 600 are non-Vermonters from 43 states. The Alliance for Marriage predicts that "we will see lawsuits in virtually every state seeking to export these civil unions.") 

     How will the religiously active vote? 

     A September Barna poll found that born again Christians back Bush by 71 percent to 28 for Gore, but more numerous non-born again Christians supported Gore, 53 to 45 percent. Catholics were evenly split, 49-49 percent. In October a CBS poll found 44 percent of Catholics for Bush and 42 percent for Gore, while Protestants back Bush by a 47-39 percent margin.

     On balance, believers seem to be leaning toward Bush.

Copyright 2000 Michael J. McManus. 

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