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By Louise SweeneyStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 23, 1981


Norman Lear, father of "All in the family," worries about things that Archie Bunker would say only pointy- headed meatballs worry about: olerance. Diversity. Pluralism. "Pluralism?" Archie would say, "What's dat , some kinda fancy new disease?"

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Along with freedom of thought, religion, and expression, in the United States , pluralism is one of the chief concerns of Norman Lear and the organization he began, People for the American Way (PAW).

A funny thing happened to Lear on the way to making a movie. The movie was to be a satire on the ultraconservative political groups that have melded with TV evangelists to form the religious. New Right.But as Lear began to work on the film, he decided the subject was no launching matter.

"What happened to me was that in research on this proliferation of TV evangelicals and radio evangelicals I became concerned with where they were taking the country or could take the country with distortion of Scripture. And I was also concerned with the possibility that I could take three years to write and direct that one film and miss the target. And it was too serious to miss the target."

So Lear went out and started PAW, instead. PAW's brochure outlines what the group believes is the central danger: that the religious New Right "is more than just old- fashioned evangelism. It's a well-financed [$150 million raised last year], highly coordinated, computerized campaign not just to preach their faith and their politics -- which they have every right to do -- but an attempt to impose theirm political and moral beliefs on the rest of us."

PAW lists some of the actions it considers troubling: budgeting millions to successfully defeat members of Congress and local legislators it objects to; distributing "moral report cards" to dictate to their followers as to which are "good" Christians among politicians and which are not. "Good" Christians and "good Americans" are defined as only those who share the New Right positions: against the ERA, abortion, teackers' unions, the Department of Education, the Panama Canal treaties, and SALT II, and for increased defense spending and support of Taiwan.

Lear came to Washington to speak for PAW at a time when media attention is riveted on a highly publicized threat to boycott TV sponsors by the Coalition for Better Television (CBTV), a television watchdog of the religious New Right groups. He was here to introduce PAW's new media campaign of public-service announcements. And if you want to raise Norman Lear's hackles, try suggesting that Paw is the liberals' answer to the coalition.

"We didn't come together as People for the American Way to face the Coalition for Better TV," he says crisply. "We came together last July and August because we were concerned about the way we [the US] were drifting with the New Right and the religious New Right. . . . A climate was growing in this country that suggested that people were good Christians or bad Christians, good Americans or bad Americans, depending on some specific political points of view. And we intended to address that.

"Many months later the Rev. [Donald E.] Wildmon [chairman of CBTV] for his own good reasons decided to put together a coalition, and he listed [among supporting members of the coalition] Moral Majority and other groups. . . . We're not in a fight with the coalition. We have a point of view, of course. . . ."

PAW's board of advisers includes ministers from the Lutheran Council, the Baptists, the Episcopal Church, United Presbyterian Church, the presidents of the National Council of Churches of Christ and of the University of Notre Dame, and spokesmen for the American Jewish Committee and B'nai B'rith, as well as Ruth Carter Stapleton (Jimmy's sister), former Sen. Harold Hughes, AFL-CIO president Lane Kirkland, former Rep. Barbara Jordan, editor Norman Cousins, former Education Secretary Shirley Hufstedler, and Newton Minow, the former FCC commissioner, who coined the TV phrase "the vast wastelend."

At the end of a busy, media-stuffed day Lear sinks gratefully into a blue-and-rust stiped velvet couch, as though he'd just trekked across half that wasteland. Lear in person is a surprise. He is tall, slender, spiffily dressed. None of that blue-collar chic for the man who gave TV "Good Times," "The Jeffersons," and "Maude." He is wearing a handsomely tailored gray pin striped suit, pale blue shirt, and a navy, pale blue, and crimson striped tie. Lear is California tan, with balding gray hair and royal blue eyes under eyebrows that sometimes shoot up like a drawbridge opening. He is an attractive man with an expression halfway between a tenured college professor and a leprechaun.