The Moral Majority's first foray in the Maryland General Assembly has alienated some legislators who traditionally support its views and has forced a split with its strongest potential ally, the Catholic Archdiocese.
The conservative antiabortion group's tactics seemed to backfire today on the issue its lobbyist said was supposed to demonstrate its clout. At issue was a bill opposed by the group that would allow school guidance counselors and health employes to give students information about such matters as veneral disease, contraception and pregnancy -- but, as a concession to church lobbyists not abortion -- without obtaining parental permission.
Within minutes the Moral Majority's demonstration of strength turned into a heated debat between the group's supporters and members of the committee considering the bill. Several committee members charged that the group was using "bully" tactics and indicated they would support the bill -- in some cases because of Moral Majority tactics -- when it comes up for a committee vote later this week.
"You have come up here on a number of issues, and are saying whether they are moral or immoral," Del. Paula Hollinger (D-Baltimore County) told the group's supporters during the four-hour hearing. "It is my interpertation you are asking us to legislate your morality."
"I think they are uncomfortable with the profamily philosophy," said Moral Majority chief lobbyist James Wright after his hour-long testimony, which was received with some hostility by the committee. "They're a little threatened by with time they'll shape up."
Until today's hearing, Wright had hoped that telephone calls by Moral Majority members in a hearing room full of supporters would establish the pressure necessary in Annapolis to kill House bill four, the health information bill. The conservative lobby then would move on the other issues, including ending Medicaid funding of abortions, pushing for a constitutional amendment to limit stat spending and convincing the legislature to continue the state board of movie censors.
"I don't think we're going to win this one [the health information bill, which the group feels is antifamily and proabortions], but we served notice that the profamily movement has arrived," Wright said.
The arrival has not met with the complete approval of many legislators and others who might be expected to support the group's views. The Archdiocese lobbyist, Frank McIntyre, has separated the church's efforts in Annapolis from the Moral Majority and today testified on behalf of the health bill -- with some amendments -- that the Moral Majority had singled out the kill.
"The Catholic Church does not wish to stand in the way of or thwart the state's efforts to solve the problems of adolescent alcoholism, drug abuse or pregnancy," McIntry said at the hearing.
One of the chief sponsors of anti-abortion measures in the House, Del. Frank Pesci, (D-Prince George's) attacked the Moral Majority for doing little to help women and teen-agers who are in need of counseling on such issues as pregnancy and contraception while at the same time expending funds and energy on publicity for their legislative push.
Others expressed similar disapproval of the group and its tactics since arriving in Annapolis. "I'm not prepared as some are to completely wipe them out as a noninfluence," said Del. Larry Young (D-Baltimore), who heard today's testimony by the group. "But I didn't like this guy's statement that he was going to 'show clout' on this issue. The majority of legislators are not going be pushed by that kind of rhetoric. It backfires as I think he [Wright] saw here today."
Although the session is only a few weeks old, this is not the first time the group's tactics have backfired.
A few weeks ago the group attacked as immoral an Annapolis bakery for selling gingerbread cookies in the form of naked men and women. Since then the store's business has grown so rapidly, according to its lawyer, that it has had to move into larger quarters.