From the Worldwide Faith News archives


Date 05 May 1996 07:34:39


                      by David E. Anderson 
                      Religion News Service 
WASHINGTON--The new Republican-dominated Congress will change some 
of the dynamics but few of the issues that historically have 
concerned Capitol Hill lobbyists for religious organizations. 
     "The rhetoric changes, the faces change, but it doesn't change 
the issues," said Ruth Flower, legislative secretary of the Friends 
Committee on National Legislation, the Quaker lobby. 
     For Reform Judaism and liberal Protestant denominations, the 
biggest issues are beating back a Republican-sponsored balanced- 
budget amendment, seeking "humane" welfare reform and trying to 
save foreign aid. 
     For the Catholic Church, the issues include welfare reform, 
limits on abortion and a tax credit for low-income parents with 
     For groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals 
and the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist 
Convention, the big priorities are restrictions on abortion and 
passage of a school-prayer measure. 
     "I think there is a strong constituency out there among 
Americans who say (the issues are) more than `just my pocketbook,'" 
said James Smith, executive director of the Christian Life 
Commission's Washington office. 
     "They are concerned about the distribution of condoms, the 
breakdown of the family, the training of children within the public 
schools, gay rights and the rampant availability of abortion.  We 
will not let this Congress go by without addressing these issues 
at some point." 
     Tim Crater, a policy analyst at the National Association of 
Evangelicals, said his group's top priority is passage of an 
amendment allowing for student-led, student-initiated prayer in the 
public schools. 
     "There is broad public support for it,"  he said.  The NAE has 
drafted a proposed bill and is circulating it among members of 
Congress and other groups for comment. 
     While most religious groups work both sides of the partisan 
aisle and count members of both parties among their supporters, 
liberal denominations acknowledge that the Republican sweep of 
Congress makes it harder to achieve their goals. 
     "The (Republican) `Contract with America' is certainly not 
compatible with our agenda," said Kathy Thornton, executive 
director of Network, an independent Catholic social-justice lobby. 
     Nearly all of the mainline Protestant groups surveyed have 
made defeat of the proposed balanced-budget amendment a top 
priority, contending it would harm the poor.  
     "We are aware of the need to reduce the deficit,'' said Kay 
Bengston, a domestic policy expert in the Evangelical Lutheran  
Church in America's office of governmental affairs.  "But it is 
this strategy of using the inflexibility of a constitutional 
amendment that we oppose.  And when you look at the specific 
programs that would need to be cut to achieve the balanced budget, 
it all comes out of programs to help low-income people."  
     The National Council of Churches, the Lutheran office on 
governmental affairs, Church Women United, the Board of Church and 
Society of the United Methodist Church, the Friends Committee, the 
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Network have all  
made defeat of the budget proposal a top priority.  
     The other major domestic agenda item for the mainline groups 
is welfare reform.  
     "Welfare reform is going to be a real test of values," said 
John Carr, secretary of the department of social development and 
world peace at the U.S. Catholic Conference, which represents the 
nation's Roman Catholic bishops in public  policy  matters.   
     "We want to see genuine welfare reform, but we are concerned 
that it serve the needs of poor families, not the needs of 
politicians. ... There needs to be more personal responsibility, 
but not just for the down and out."  
     Rabbi David Saperstein, executive director of the Religious  
Action Center of Reform Judaism, said opposition to a school prayer 
amendment is among the top issues for  his  group.  
     A coalition of religious and civil liberties groups is being  
organized to fight efforts to pass a prayer measure, he said.   
                                # # # 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
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