President Reagan's nomination of Judge Sandra Day O'Connor to the Supreme Court has drawn an unusual volume of comment from religious leaders on both sides of the choice, plus some sharp criticism of Reagan's telephone consultation with TV preacher Jerry Falwell before the selection was announced.
The most vehement complaints about the president's hour-long telephone call to the Moral Majority leader came from evangelical Protestants. "I have been under the impression that Ronald Reagan, not Jerry Falwell, was elected president of the United States last fall," wrote Dr. Presnall Wood, editor of the Baptist Standard, official publication of 2.2 million Texas Southern Baptists.
Wood, whose weekly journal is one of the most influential in Southern Baptist circles, asked: "Why was Falwell singled out? Has Falwell's media power risen to the level where he is fast becoming the uncrowned religious pope of America? . . . America does not need a crowned or uncrowned religious pope, whether he be fundamentalist Baptist, Roman Catholic or Southern Baptist."
Wood's fellow Texan, Spurgeon Dunnam III, editor of the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter, said editorially he was "bothered, personally, by the type of religious folks Mr. Reagan tends to listen to . . . . Mr Falwell epitomizes a very narrow, legalistic and not always Christian -- from my understanding of the Scriptures -- point of view."
Falwell has opposed the confirmation of Judge O'Connor because of concern that she would be proabortion. In meetings with members of Congress this week, she declined to provide specific answers to questions about her views on the Supreme Court's rulings on abortion, but said she was personally opposed to abortion.
Criticism of the president's consultation with Falwell, who gave him strong support in last fall's election, also came from R. G. Puckett, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and from Dr. James Dunn, government affairs expert for the Baptist Joint Committee.
The appointment of O'Connor, the fulfillment of a Reagan campaign pledge to appoint a women to the Supreme Court, brought plaudits from leaders of the National Council of Churches, the liberal interdenominational agency which has thus far found little to praise in Reagan's conservative policies.
It also brought commendations from Jewish organizations, including B'nai B'rith, the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations.
Orthodox Jews, the smallest branch of Judaism in this country, split on the O'Connor appointment, with the Union of Orthodox Rabbis opposing her confirmation because of the abortion issue and the National Council of Young Israel commending the appointment.
Bishop Thomas C. Kelly, general secretary of the United States Catholic Conference, said his organization "is disturbed" by reports of the Supreme Court nominee's position on abortion, aid to nonpublic education and capital punishment. But he added he would not "pre-judge the nomiee" and expressed confidence that these and other issues would be "fully clarified during the Senate confirmation process."
As a member of the Arizona legislature, O'Connor supported legislation that would restrict aiding private schools with public funds. The White House has said she supports the death penalty.
Robert Dugan, director of public affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, applauded Reagan's appointment of a woman to the court. "That historic step was overdue," he said. But he expressed "deep misgivings about Judge O'Connor's views on abortion."
Fundamentalist preacher Carl McIntire called the nomination of O'Connor "a dark and sad day for the fundamentalists in our churches" because of her record on abortion and religious schools. "This woman is dangerous to us," he said. "Out churches throughout the land will now arise to fight the appointment of Judge O'Connor."