Houston Chronicle July 09, 1999, 08:32 p.m.

Editorial: Religion's influence on politics is not in retreat

Gov. George W. Bush's centrist and so far successful campaign for the
Republican presidential nomination has led some to proclaim that the marriage
of fundamentalist religion and conservatism is at an end. While that old-time
 religion might not be ascendant on the political stage, reports of its demise are
greatly exaggerated.

In so far as Bush has revealed his agenda, it differs little from that of the
religious right/Christian Coalition. Bush opposes abortion and is doing
 everything in his power to narrow abortion rights short of calling for a
constitutional amendment that can't be enacted and might reduce his support
among women voters.

Bush speaks frequently about his own faith and the power of churches to
straighten out the lives of those who have strayed. The only condemnation that
has been hurled at Bush from the right takes him to task for his use of the term
"compassionate." Those who fault him for that probably haven't given much
 careful thought to matters of religion.

Bush's competitors for the GOP nomination are as attuned as Bush to the
views of religious conservatives, if not more so. After two terms of scandal in
the White House, no one is running on a platform of impiety. Even Democratic
Vice President Al Gore makes much of his credentials as a Sunday school

In Congress, the theological wing of the Republican Party still wields great
influence. Majority Whip Tom DeLay of Sugar Land, whom many regard as
the power behind House Speaker Dennis Hastert, recently suggested that the
Littleton massacre might be the result of teaching America's children modern
biology and geology. DeLay implied that the fundamentals of science were a
wicked delusion, and none of his conservative colleagues dared to correct

Nor is religion limited to the political spectrum's right wing. Most voters claim
to believe in God, many worship frequently and in few places in the United
States can the force of religion be said to be in retreat. Even in Hollywood,
font of entertainment with a high content of sex and violence, the establishment
has turned out to support Bush's moral campaign.

No matter who are the nominees in the general election, the issue will not be
religion vs. secular humanism, but the commingling of church and state vs. their
separation. Only on that battleground could the religious right find genuine
cause for frustration.