Bush, Kerry Turn to Religion in Final Weeks; Candidates Evoke Faith on the Stump

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Both presidential candidates, one a Roman Catholic and the other an evangelical Protestant, are conversant about their faith, with each man making religious pitches down the stretch.

This Sunday in Florida, Sen. John Kerry will speak on the values that "would shape his decision-making as president," says Mike McCurry, the candidate's spokesman on religious affairs.

Although President Bush is not planning such a singular speech, he constantly refers to God on the campaign stump and did so again yesterday at a rally in Pennsylvania before a private meeting with Roman Catholic Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia.

"In changing times, we will support the institutions that give our lives direction and purpose: our families, our schools, our religious congregations," he told an enthusiastic crowd in Downingtown.

"We stand for a culture of life, in which every person matters and every being counts. We stand for marriage and family, which are the foundation of our society," he said, using a phrase culled from the 1995 papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae to appeal to the state's large Catholic constituency.

Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-based Initiatives, told a group of religion reporters recently that Mr. Bush's faith naturally informs his values.

"What I like about President Bush is he's open about it," Mr. Towey said.

Mr. Bush's well-documented conversion to born-again Christianity after a conversation with evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham in 1985 first came to the nation's attention in December 1999, when, during a debate among presidential hopefuls in Des Moines, Iowa, he was asked to name his favorite political philosopher.

"Christ," Mr. Bush said, "because He changed my heart."

At least three books have come out in the past 17 months on Mr. Bush's faith, but none is out on Mr. Kerry's beliefs.

However, Mr. Kerry has sketched out his values on the Democratic National Committee's new Web site, www.kerrysharesourvalues.org, which debuted Oct. 7.

It touts a "Kerry/Bush values comparison chart" comparing the senator's ideas on the environment, the war in Iraq, health care, the minimum wage, prescription drugs and other issues unfavorably with those of Mr. Bush.

Under the "work with dignity" category, the Web site used the biblical parable of the Good Samaritan to compare the president to one of the men who walked by a robbed and beaten man.

"For four years, George W. Bush may have talked about compassion, but he's walked right by," the site quotes Mr. Kerry saying. "He's seen people in need, but he's crossed over to the other side of the road."

Mr. Kerry would raise the minimum wage and keep U.S. companies from exporting jobs overseas, the site said.

Mr. Kerry's increased mentions of God on the campaign trail have included noting at an Ohio town-hall meeting on Saturday that he brought his rosary beads into battle during the Vietnam War. He also vowed to "bring my faith with me to the White House, and it will guide me."

The religious talk inspired a tongue-in-cheek press release on Tuesday from the Family Research Council (FRC) asking the senator to "team" with them to sponsor a House of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act upon his return to the Senate. Such a bill would clarify a 1954 law passed by Congress forbidding nonprofit groups to engage in political activity.

The FRC noted Mr. Kerry's presence on Oct. 11 at a Miami church, where several black religious leaders endorsed the Massachusetts Democrat for president.

"Given his new approach to the campaign and new interest in churches, we thought this would be a perfect opportunity for him to work with us," said Connie Mackey, FRC vice president of government affairs. …