Religious Right Interview Team Approves of GOP Candidate Bush
Conn, Joseph L., Church & State
The meeting took place at Washington, D.C.'s historic Hay Adams Hotel, just across Lafayette Square from the White House. Republican presidential front runner George W. Bush was there, along with a cadre of top Religious Right leaders.
When the one-and-a-half hour grilling ended Sept. 24, the Texas governor had gained the group's acceptance of his stands on church and state, abortion, judicial appointments and gay rights and perhaps had taken another step toward occupancy of that house across the street.
According to two news media reports, Bush met quietly with key Religious Right figures to answer their questions about his political agenda and personal religious commitment.
The session was organized under the aegis of the Madison Project, an organization led by home schooling advocate Michael Farris. Among those attending were Farris; Tim LaHaye, best-selling author and a founder of the Religious Right; Beverly LaHaye, head of Concerned Women for America (and Tim's wife); Paul Pressler, a former Texas judge and key strategist of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination; Marlin Maddoux, a Texas-based evangelical radio executive; William Armstrong, former U.S. senator from Colorado; Dr. John Willke, president of Life Issues Institute; Paul Weyrich, head of the Free Congress Foundation; and Peter Marshall, author and "Christian nation" advocate. (TV preacher D. James Kennedy is also a member of the group, but missed the Bush interview session.)
Madison Project participants are interviewing all the Republican presidential candidates, but the session with front-runner Bush is considered the most portentous. While the Religious Right conclave stopped short of endorsing Bush, the candidate clearly persuaded many of them that he sees things their way on many issues.
"He's not rising out of the social conservative ranks so he's not going to be 100 percent harmonious with us, but the question is whether he is reasonably harmonious," Farris told Scripps Howard reporter Joan Lowy. "The answer is, yeah, we thought he was."
In a separate interview, Farris told conservative columnist Cal Thomas, "I think Bush is acceptable. I'll support him if he's the nominee."
The Religious Right leaders were particularly concerned about Bush's stand on abortion and judicial appointments. The movement hopes the next president will name Supreme Court justices who will reverse the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision upholding abortion rights and other decisions that conflict with their interpretation of the Bible.
Bush told the group that he would not have a litmus test for federal judges, but that he would appoint "strict constructionists." The Texas governor also pointed to his record in Texas where he has appointed judges who are anti-abortion.
"He spoke of the need to protect human life in terms that were consistent with our values," Farris told Scripps Howard. "He talked not only about abortion, but euthanasia and issues like Dr. Kevorkian and expressed the preciousness of human life at all stages, which was warmly received."
Armstrong told Thomas that Bush "favorably impressed him" as a "man of conviction," and said the candidate "doesn't need to go further" in his anti-abortion rhetoric.
Bush also satisfied his interviewers on the question of gay rights. He said he would not "knowingly" appoint a homosexual as an ambassador or department head, but also would not fire someone if such information came out later.
Marshall recalled, "He said to us, `Rest assured, I would not start somebody, I would not appoint somebody, to a position who was an open homosexual. …