2016-07-27
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 (RNS) -- President-elect George Bush is considering appointing a White House liaison to the Muslim community, according to a report to be broadcast this weekend.

``My understanding is that President Bush will actually consider a liaison to the Muslim community, specifically for Muslims,'' Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council says on the PBS show "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly." ``We hope that our messages to the president will be heard and it will be an open channel.''

Muslim political advocacy groups, in a show of the community's new political strength, endorsed Bush during the election and the hoped-for liaison is their expected payback.

Post-balloting polls conducted by Muslim groups showed the estimated six-million strong community overwhelmingly favored Bush over his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore.

Muslim activists said before the vote that they endorsed Bush in an effort to show they could deliver bloc votes as a sign of their community's growing political sophistication within the American system.

As the long battle over the presidency came to an end, other religious groups and leaders also were positioning themselves for pressing their issues and points of view with the new administration. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, who will be installed early next month as the new leader of Roman Catholics in the nation's capital, told Religion and Ethics Newsweekly he expected to see ``progress'' on such ``Catholic'' issues as opposition to abortion and euthanasia.

``I think that with the Bush administration one would hope that we would make some progress on the issues of life,'' McCarrick said.

``I'd like to see them not only looking at the poor, which is so important, but to look at the poorest of all: the unborn child that's in its mother's womb, and the older person who is just spending the last few months of life,'' McCarrick said.

In the first days after Gore abandoned his legal challenge to the election and conceded to Bush, religious leaders across the spectrum offered the Texas governor congratulations.

Among those issuing statements of congratulations were evangelist Billy Graham, who all but endorsed Bush during the campaign, and independent Bishop T.D. Jakes (who is also a Beliefnet columnist).

``I am encouraged that democracy has prevailed as our nation has negotiated a difficult impasse,'' Graham said in a statement. ``The time has come to put aside the strong rhetoric that can only divide us and unite for the common good as `one nation under God.'''

Jakes, head of the mega-church The Potter's House in Dallas, said he was confident Bush ``will prayerfully lead a diverse people in a positive direction for the 21st century.''

And Rich Cizik, head of the Washington office of the National Association of Evangelicals, told ``Religion and Ethics Newsweekly'' that ``most evangelicals expect to have good access into the new administration.''

At the same time, Bush's honeymoon with religious communities -- including his own United Methodist Church -- could be short-lived.

While Bush and his Republican Party agree with the denomination's ethical position on such issues as opposition to human cloning, there are also major differences, including on such issues as gun control, education, abortion and Social Security.

The two largest fault lines between Bush and many religious leaders are likely to be on the death penalty and the use of government money to fund religiously based education and social service programs.

``I support the death penalty because I believe it saves lives,'' Bush said during the campaign -- putting him at odds with not only the United Methodist Church, but also the Roman Catholic Church, much of the Jewish community, most mainline Protestants and even such evangelicals as religious broadcaster Pat Robertson.

Indeed, among the actions Bush will have to take during his first few months in office will be deciding whether to go ahead with the first federal execution since 1963.

Bush has also been strongly supportive of so-called ``charitable choice'' programs that seek to funnel federal funds to faith-based groups providing social services -- an issue strongly opposed by most of the Jewish community and church-state separationists.

``The overwhelming consensus in the Jewish community is that

government money should never be used to discriminate and government money should not fund the core activities of pervasively sectarian institutions like synagogues and churches,'' Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism told ``Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.'' ``We are, therefore, strongly opposed to charitable choice.''

After the bitter dispute over voting in Florida, Bush is also likely to be pressed by large numbers in the religious community on the issue of electoral and campaign finance reform.

``The democratic promise of universal suffrage, won through decades of struggle, has shown severe shortcomings,'' said Jim Wallis, convenor of Call to Renewal, an ecumenical anti-poverty effort. ``The religious community should now play a leading role in leading the call for election reform as a moral issue.''

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