Bush, Kerry Spar Over Use Of Religion In Presidential Race

A staffer with President George W. Bush's reelection campaign has accused likely Democratic nominee John F. Kerry of exploiting scripture after Kerry used a Bible verse to criticize Bush policies.

Kerry, speaking at New Northside Missionary Baptist Church in St. Louis March 28, charged that too many people are falling through the social safety net. Citing passages from the Book of James, Kerry asserted, "The Scriptures say, 'What does it profit my brethren if some say he has faith but does not have works?' When we look at what's happening in America today, where are the works of compassion? Because it is also written, 'Be doers of the word and not hearers only.'"

Kerry never mentioned Bush by name, but it didn't take long for the president's campaign staff to fire back. Kerry's comments, Bush staffer Steve Schmidt told reporters, "were beyond the bounds of acceptable discourse and a sad exploitation of scripture for political attack."

Ironically, Bush has used religion and scriptural references repeatedly since taking office, often citing the Bible to buttress his public policy efforts.

The tiff underscored the religious differences between the two men. Bush, a Methodist, says he is born again and often talks about how his faith enabled him to overcome his excessive drinking. Kerry, a Roman Catholic, is a regular church-goer but has insisted that he will not allow church leaders to dictate public policy to him. Kerry breaks with the church hierarchy on some issues, favoring legal abortion and gay rights.

"We have a separation of church and state in this country," Kerry told Time magazine. "As John Kennedy said very clearly, I will be a president who happens to be Catholic, not a Catholic president." Kerry is divorced but had his first marriage annulled, which leaves him in good standing with the church. On April 11, he attended Easter services at The Paulist Center in Boston, where he took communion alongside his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry.

Kerry had earlier come under fire for taking communion at a Protestant church in Boston. After attending services at Charles Street AME Church in Boston April 4, Kerry accepted communion, a violation of Catholic canon law. Some traditionalist Catholics, upset over Kerry's support for abortion rights, are pressing for Kerry to be denied communion at Catholic churches, but that has not yet happened.

Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley said last year that while the church expects Catholic politicians to oppose legal abortion, he does not support denying them communion.

"It is not our policy to deny communion," O'Malley said. "It is up to the individual."

Most American Catholics are apparently not bothered by Kerry's actions. A poll released April 12 by Georgetown University showed Kerry leading Bush among Catholic voters, 46 percent to 41 percent.