Vice President Bush told the founding convention of the Rev. Jerry Falwell's new political organization yesterday that "America is in crying need of the moral vision" of the controversial fundamentalist and his followers.
On the latest stop of his swing through the network of conservative organizations, Bush assured some 500 people gathered to launch the Liberty Federation as the successor to Falwell's Moral Majority that he shares their views on abortion, pornography, prayer in the schools and support of anticommunist "liberation" movements.
Defending their activities in voter registration and their lobbying, Bush said American tradition may require "a wall between church and state, but there should be no wall between the church or synagogue and politics."
The vice president said liberal critics of Falwell were hypocritical in suggesting that it is "all right" for such liberal clergymen as Jesse L. Jackson, a 1984 Democratic presidential candidate; Robert Drinan, a former member of the House from Massachusetts, and William Sloane Coffin, a leader of the opposition to the Vietnam war, to be in politics, but criticizing conservatives like Falwell for espousing their views.
"We must not be driven out of the political arena by those who do not share our views," Bush told the applauding clergymen, students and political activists.
Bush appeared at Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., in 1983 and has received Falwell's personal endorsement for the 1988 Republican presidential nomination. Still, there was some surprise in GOP political circles that Bush chose to identify himself with Falwell, who carries "high negatives" with many voters, according to several Virginia polls.
Falwell described the decision announced last month to fold Moral Majority into the new Liberty Federation as an effort to "broaden our agenda and allow more rapid growth." Critics said Moral Majority had been tarnished by its founder's controversial statements on South Africa, homosexuality and other issues.
But Bush has set out to woo "New Right" religious groups and activist organizations, in what his strategists describe as a deliberate effort to deny any potential rival for the nomination a political base in that increasingly vocal and influential part of the GOP spectrum.
His main rival for support from the right is expected to be Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), but the Rev. Marion G. (Pat) Robertson, like Falwell, a Virginia-based television evangelist, has said he is exploring a 1988 presidential bid as well.
Bush told the group that the United States was "a moral as well as a political union," pluralistic in its religious practices but "united around a core of principles [including]. . . reverence for a loving God we all acknowledge."
He said he "can't believe" that the authors of the Constitution intended to prohibit "our children opening their school day with a simple, non-sectarian, voluntary prayer their parents taught them" or that they intended the First Amendment to protect what he called "smut dealers and pornographers."
Falwell praised Bush for his speech, saying as "a Baptist preacher, that's good preaching."