Ronald Reagan came today to the citadel of Moral Majority and disagreed with those who say that God hears only Christian prayers.
Asked whether he agreed with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, a fundamentalist minister and founder of Moral Majority, that "God only hears the prayers of those redeemed through faith in Christ," Reagan replied:
"No. Since both the Christian and Judaic religions are based on the same God, the God of Moses, I'm quite sure those prayers are heard. But I guess everyone can make his own interpretation of the Bible, and many individuals have been making differing interpretations for a long time."
Reagan made his comment at the Lynchburg airport before addressing the National Religious Broadcasters Association at Liberty Baptist College, where Falwell is chancellor.
In a speech and subsequent forum with the broadcasters, the Republican presidential nominee endorsed the separation of church and state and a constitutional amendment to restore voluntary school prayer.
"I would be absolutely opposed to a state-mandated prayer, but I have always thought that a voluntary, nonsectarian prayer was perfectly proper, and I don't ever think we should have expelled God from the classroom," Reagan said to the applause of the broadcasters.
Falwell, almost as much the subject of photographic attention as Reagan was, sat in the college auditorium's second row. Told by a reporter what Reagan had said at the airport, the minister said that he would have said the same thing as Reagan in similar circumstances because the chief executive has to be "president of all the people."
"I would fight for his [Reagan's] right to believe that," Falwell said amicably. "I appreciate his stand."
But the fundamentalist minister, who has endorsed Reagan for president, insisted that his own position was theologically correct.
"We've traditionally as Christians for 2,000 years believed that we pray through Jesus' name," Falwell said. "That doesn't mean we're anti-Semetic, and some irresponsible reporter tried to make something different out of it."
Falwell was quoted in a Richmond newspaper Thursday as saying that he believed "God hears the prayers of all redeemed gentiles and Jews but he does not hear the prayers of unredeemed gentiles and Jews."
Reagan's remarks to the religious broadcasters were carefully crouched to avoid a repetition of his performance in Dallas late in August before a group of fundamentalist ministers. Then, he agreed with a questioner that schools should teach alternatives to the theory of evolution.
This time Reagan retreated to his basic campaign message on every occasion.
"Government can aid family life by reducing unemployment that is now a tragedy in so many American homes, and government has a solemn obligation to halt the dangerous inflation that is ravaging our society," he said.
Borrowing from a Jewish psalmist, Reagan repeated a question he used before the national convention of B'nai B'rith last month, and exhorted the broadcasters today to "work for peace."
"We must truly be peacemakers for ourselves, for our children, for the nation and for the world," he said.
In a prepared statement he read at the airport, Reagan revived one of his favorite campaign issues. He accused President Carter of "promoting government secrecy, hiding possible malfeasance and preventing necessary public interrogation" for refusing to allow a White House assistant to testify before a congressional committee about leaks to reporters about the radar-invisible Stealth aircraft.
Carter has refused to allow David Aaron, deputy White House assistant for national security affairs, to appear before the House Armed Services Committee to testify on an allegation that he leaked information about the plane.
But Reagan refused to say what he would do as president. Pressed by reporters, he finally answered "I don't think this is a decision for me, because if I were president there wouldn't be a situation of this kind taking place."
Later in Norfolk, Reagan repeated familiar accusations that Carter had weakened the nation's military defense. He also criticized the president for opposing provisions of the military pay raise bill.
"It's wrong and it's cruel to exploit military men for election-year purposes," Reagan said. "Our Navy doesn't need petty politics, but more petty officers."