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Presidential Candidates Emphasize Religion in Battle for Swing States

In the last two weeks of a very close presidential race, both President Bush and Senator Kerry have placed special emphasis on how their faith shapes their policy in hopes to gain the support of relig
( [email protected] ) Oct 25, 2004 06:07 PM EDT

In the last two weeks of a very close presidential race, both President Bush and Senator Kerry have placed special emphasis on how their faith shapes their policy, in hopes to gain the support of religious constituents.

President Bush, a born-again Christian into the evangelical faith, has been candid in the importance of religion throughout his presidency and in his plans for the US in the coming years, should he be elected.

Most notably this week, President Bush held a private meeting with Cardinal Justin Rigali at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church in Pennsylvania, between two campaign speeches within the swing state. This was the first known individual meeting with a Catholic bishop since the Bush campaign began this year.

Although the archdiocese will not release the contents of the meeting, the purpose of Bush’s request was “to show support to Cardinal Rigali and to show respect to the faithful and to show respect for the office,” according to Guy Ciarrochi, executive director for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Pennsylvania.

Two weeks prior, Rigali had reminded Catholics of their responsibility to vote for candidates whose views and policies are in accordance “with our Catholic teaching that respecting all life from conception to a natural death is inviolable.”

The Bush campaign hopes to win the Catholic vote, which makes up one-third of Pennsylvania, by emphasizing the President’s stance on abortion, gay marriage, and stem-cell research. In a rally before meeting with Rigali, Bush stated, “In changing times, we will support the institutions that give our lives direction and purpose: our families, our schools, our religious congregations… We stand for a culture of life… We stand for marriage and family, which are the foundation of our society.”

Senator Kerry, a Roman Catholic who has been less conversant on religion, will make a campaign stop in Florida tomorrow to speak on the values that “would shape his decision-making as president.” The speech is planned at an opportune time to counter Bush’s claim on religious voters, and has been preceded by increasing referrals to faith and religion in his addresses over the last couple weeks.

Senator Kerry has promised to “bring my faith with me to the White House, and it will guide me,” most recently in the swing state of Ohio, where religion is a key issue along with the economy, war, and national security. At the same time, he promises that “as President, I will make science and technology a priority once again,” referring to his plans to invest in technology and education, expand stem cell research, and move toward energy independence.

However, on many issues sensitive to religion, such as abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research, Senator Kerry stands opposite of Bush and many others in the Romans Catholic faith. Kerry responds to the discrepancy between his faith and his policies, for example, by emphasizing his plans to address the social conditions linked to abortion.

Kerry’s spokesman on religious affairs, Mike McCurry, stated that “what resonates with [Kerry] is the community-building notion of the common good,” referring to the Catholic social-justice tradition.

Recently, conservative groups have taken up Kerry’s promises to bring faith issues to light during these final weeks. Following Kerry’s recent speeches in churches and his reference to James 2, “words without deeds are meaningless,” the Family Research Council (FRC) sent a letter earlier this week, requesting that “one of [his] first deeds when [Kerry] return[s] to Congress will be to introduce a Senate version of the Houses of Worship Political Speech Protection Act”, which would remove restrictions on religious leaders to speak on moral issues considered politically partisan.