Washington — Protestant preachers, particularly the evangelicals whose following ranges near 50 million, are entering the political arena this year far more vigorously and openly than in the past. The three major presidential candidates are all Protestants and each identifies himself as a "born-again Christian."
Carter is an active Southern Baptist. Reagan, whose father was a Roman Catholic, was brought up in his mother's church, the Disciples of Christ. He now attends the Presbyterian church. Anderson is a member of the Evangelical Free Church.
There are a number of issues affecting separation of church and state and others bearing on religious conviction and theology which are emerging in the campaign. The purpose of this column is strictly informative -- to set out objectively the declared positions of the principal candidates on these matters.
There are considerable differences, and some similarities, among them. Much of the data is drawn from the research of the magazine Church & State, which has carefully compiled the records.
On the use of government funds to aid parochial and other private schools:
The President has always opposed tax assistance for religious schools. The clearest test came in 1978 when the House of Representative narrowly passed the Moynihan-Packwood bill which would have provided substantial sums yearly for parochial and private schools by means of tuition reimbursements through income tax credits. The Carter administration opposed the measure and announced it would yeto it if it passed the Senate. It didn't pass.
Carter opposed a 1980 Moynihan bill to extend college student grants to parochial and private schools. It was voted down in the Senate.
Anderson voted against the Moynihan-Packwood measure when it was before the House.
While he was governor of california from 1967 to 1975, Ronald Reagan had a record of favoring tax aid for religious schools. He unsuccessfully advocated a voucher plan to provide such state aid, and in 1972 he signed into law a tuition tax credit bill which would have devoted $50 million per year to parochial and private schools. This law was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court, and a similar New York plan was also found unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court. In the face of these setbacks Mr. Reagan has said: "There are obvious constitutional difficulties with trying to provide tax monies for religious schools. Even if that aspect could be resolved, there would still be major difficulties with taxpayers who are philosophically opposed to financial assistance to religious schools."
On collective prayers in public schools:
Carter agrees with the essential correctness of the Supreme Court rulings banning government sponsorship of group prayer in public schools. He opposes a Jesse Helms bill to prevent the courts from ruling on this issue.
Reagan favors government-sponsored school prayer.
Anderson opposes amendments or bills to authorize govvernment-sponsored school prayer.
On the question of abortions:
Carter occupies what he would describe as the middle ground. He opposes a constitutional amendment which would deny freedom of choice; he also opposes most medicaid funding of abortions for poor women.
Although Reagan signed a liberalized abortion law in California in 1967, he subsequently changed his view and now favors a constitutional amendment to bar all abortions except those few which might be necessary to save a woman's life. He opposes medicaid funding of abortions.
Anderson opposes any anti-abortion amendment and approves medicaid funding of abortions. Anderson has declared that "such matters should be decided by a woman in conjunction with her God and her physician."
In another area which still remains controversial, Carter has adopted the practice, begun by President Nixon and continued by President Ford, of naming a "personal presidential envoy" to the Vatican, an arrangement never accorded by the US government to any other religious body. President Franklin Roosevelt named a wartime personal envoy to the Vatican, but when President Truman proposed upgrading the envoy to the rank of ambassador, requiring Senate confirmation, it ran into stiff opposition and was dropped until Nixon revived it in 1970. So far neither Reagan nor Anderson has declared himself on this question.
The evangelical population is quite evidently not on one side of the political fence. It may well divide, about the same way the country as a whole votes.