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American Morning

Voluntary Prayer in Federal Buildings Sparks Debate

Aired November 20, 2001 - 08:23   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: The events of September 11 sparked a revival of patriotism, but it may have also started a revival of spirituality. Many people are sharing their faith and finding the power of prayer in the workplace, specifically in federal buildings.

A "Washington Post" article says: "Small groups of federal workers have been holding Bible studies on their own time for many years, but a growing number are now taking advantage of legislation and guidelines on permissible religious activities in the federal workplace signed by former President Bill Clinton, which allow full- scale worship services to take place in federal buildings as long as they are truly voluntary and open to the public."

Some would argue this violates the separation of church and state, and joining us right now, Reverend Pat Robertson, who joins us from Virginia Beach -- good to see you again, sir.

REVEREND PAT ROBERTSON, EVANGLIST: Hey, it's good to see you, Paula.

ZAHN: I haven't had the chance to talk with you in many months.

ROBERTSON: It's been a while since you've changed locations. You bring luster to this network -- glad to see you.

ZAHN: Well, I'm happy to know that you will join this new network -- appreciate your time.

ROBERTSON: Thank you.

ZAHN: And let's get back to this issue of what I set up in the lead in.

ROBERTSON: All right.

ZAHN: Do you understand why there are Americans out there concerned, when they know that federal workers are worshipping and praying in federal buildings, that this might represent, or might undermine, the separate of church and state?

ROBERTSON: Well, Paula, I doubt it. The Supreme Court ruled on a case called Mergens v. West Side School District, a 7 to 2 decision, written by Judge Brennan, of all people, that individuals had a right to pray and exercise their faith. This had to do with high school students, but I think it applies to anybody, that voluntary prayer and voluntary Bible study is a right of all Americans, and if they want to exercise it in their workplace, as long as they're not interfering with other people, that's their business.

ZAHN: But I think what the concern is, if you have a supervisor that attends one of these voluntary prayer sessions, and there is someone -- two people lined up for a promotion, you know, within the department that perhaps that supervisor would favor the one who voluntarily attends these sessions.

ROBERTSON: Well, you could say that...

ZAHN: Is there a reason for concern there or not?

ROBERTSON: Well, I've been concerned about, for example, the FAA having sensitivity training for some of the most bizarre things you ever heard of, and we have gurus coming in and teaching transcendental meditation and you can take it all the way down the lines.

So I just think we need more freedom, and those that are so uptight about this. But you know what I've been doing, Paula, as more important, I've just finished 50 days of special prayer. We have enlisted 30,000 to 40,000 churches. We have about 95,000 people praying with us, and we've been asking God for a supernatural move of his spirit in the churches. We're concerned, not so much about federal buildings as we are in the church itself.

ZAHN: It's interesting in the wake of the September 11 attacks that a man you greatly admire, Reverend Billy Graham, came out and told Americans, it's OK to be angry at your God. When you preach to people today, are they having a great difficulty dealing with what happened to this country on that dreadful day?

ROBERTSON: You know, the Bible says "Thou will take the wrath of man and make it praise Thee; the remainder of wrath Thou will restrain." And what we're seeing is that this awful attack, as horrific as it was and as heartrending, is bringing about one of the greatest spiritual revivals in the history of America. People are turning to God. The churches are full. We have seen a move in our own staff here at CBN that's overwhelming, and I think that we've been shocked into realizing, what are (ph) the true values. People are turning to God. They're turning to their families. They're turning to the fundamental values, and they're getting away from all of this froth (ph) of the last decade.

ZAHN: Besides following these religious issues, I know you follow politics pretty carefully. And I wanted to get your reaction this morning to a piece that ran in the "Washington Post," where they talked about George Bush basically restoring what they call the imperial presidency.

And in the article, they basically say that President Bush now has perhaps more power than any other post-Watergate president, rivaling even Franklin D. Roosevelt's command. And they list a couple of areas in foreign policy, where there was vast cuts, and in the U.S. nuclear arsenal without any sort of congressional reaction, domestic policy, the proposal of sort of reorganizing the INS, once again, without congressional approval, and in the legal area, Bush signing an order that would allow military tribunals.

Do you agree with the assessment of the "Washington Post?"

ROBERTSON: I don't think so. You know, I tell you, the popularity of a president can evaporate like the morning dew. Look at what happened to the first George Bush after the Gulf War. He was riding so high, and he lost the election.

So I think we all have to understand that our leaders are there for a short period of time, but I'm sure that George Bush understands the limits of the presidency. He is a very humble guy. He's just trying to win a war and to keep terrorists from destroying the country. And I think that's as far as it goes, at least I certainly hope so.

ZAHN: The last time I spoke with you, I think everybody was arguing about social security and the president's tax cut plan.


ZAHN: And you have been critical of President Bush from time to time. How do you think he is doing now?

ROBERTSON: Well, if I'm supposed to be honest, I guess I'm supposed to be honest on this show.

ZAHN: Yes, that's -- you're a man of the cloth. You better be honest.

ROBERTSON: I think, frankly, the Democrats are rolling him on a number of issues. I think Daschle has become like the alter ego, and Daschle and Gephardt are controlling the agenda. And I think the president isn't tough enough on asking for tax cuts. He's not tough enough on a stimulus package that will really work. He's conceding way too much.

And for example, all of those checks that went out to people, they're having no impact on the economy at all. The American people are putting them in their savings account, which is good for them, but they're not going on a wild spending spree to stimulate the economy.

And the Democrats have a different agenda than the Republicans, but I think that he often sides with the leadership of the Senate -- the Democratic leadership. And I think it's going to come back to haunt him if he doesn't get tougher on them.

ZAHN: Well, we'll see if there is any cause and effect to this interview. I think the last time I spoke with you, you got a call from the president, so keep us posted, and we'll see if he's listening to anything you say here this morning.

ROBERTSON: I'll do that, Paula.

ZAHN: Reverend Robertson, have a great Thanksgiving, and thank you very much...

ROBERTSON: Same to you. It's good to be with you.

ZAHN: ... for being here with us this morning.