Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.), long the symbol of the conservative movement, said yesterday he will fight "every step of the way" against religious groups that seek to pressure public officials.
In a breakfast interview with a group of reporters and in a speech on the Senate floor, the 1964 Republican presidential nominee said, "I'm frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that, if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in A, B, C or D....I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate."
Goldwater clashed sharply a few weeks ago with anti-abortion groups and the Moral Majority, when they criticized President Reagan's choice of Arizona Circuit Judge Sandra Day O'Connor for the Supreme Court. He told reporters yesterday morning he had been looking for a public forum in which to broaden his attack. After rehearsing the speech at breakfast, he decided to deliver it on the Senate floor.
"I don't like the New Right," Goldwater said. "What they're talking about is not conservatism."
In the formal speech, the Arizonan asked Americans to "look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland, or the bombs bursting in Lebanon," all of which he said stemmed from "injecting religious issues into the affairs of state."
"By maintaining the separation of church and state," Goldwater said, "the United States has avoided the intolerance which has so divided the rest of the world with religious wars."
Citing such groups as the Moral Majority and "pro-life" organizations, Goldwater called "the religious factions that are growing throughout our land...a divisive element that could tear apart the very spirit of our representative system, if they gain sufficient strength."
He said, "Far too much of the time of members of Congress and officials of the Executive Branch is used up dealing with special-interest groups on issues like abortion, school busing, ERA, prayer in the schools and pornography."
Goldwater said he shared "many of the values emphasized by these organizations," but would "fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of 'conservatism.' "
Asked about the bill to encourage chastity among teen-agers that was sponsored by one of the "New Right" senators, Jeremiah Denton (R-Ala.), Goldwater asked, "How the hell are you going to regulate that? They've been trying ever since the apple. It's just like abortion. You can make them unconstitutional but they're still going to go out and have one."
In the press breakfast, Goldwater also poked a bit of fun at President Reagan, even while saying his political protege "is doing all right." After saying he had been converted to support of the draft by the need for trained manpower in the military, Goldwater was asked what he thought it would take to persuade Reagan that the volunteer army was not working. The senator replied:
"It would take a recognizable national calamity--if they woke him up in time and told him about it."