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Religion at Core of Cheney Talk

August 30, 2000
By: John Sheridan
State Capital Bureau

KANSAS CITY - The words are prominently displayed on the muted brick facade of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes headquarters in Kansas City, where former defense secretary and vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney spoke Tuesday.

"Thanks be to God who gives us victory through our lord Jesus Christ."

It is victory the Bush/Cheney ticket is hoping for in November, and they, like their democratic rivals, are increasingly leaning on religion as a central issue.

FCA spokesman Jeremy Blume said the Republicans were visiting because they like what the group stands for and they could use the event as a forum on character.

Cheney did not mention religion during his brief speech and the lack of religion in the speech caught the Christian group off-guard. Blume said he was surprised Cheney didn't talk about it.

At the FCA function, although religion wasn't discussed, the mostly-white crowd of about 70 people were dressed in their Sunday best.

Cheney's address was preceded by short talks from three people: Kansas City Royals all-star first baseman Mike Sweeney, FCA vice president of corporate/community relations Carey Casey, and Erika Garris, a 17-year-old junior at Knob Noster, Mo. High School.

"I stand here professing God as my savior," Garris, a local athlete, said during a short, bubbly speech.

Republicans were looking for a savior too in diverse speakers such as Casey and Garris, both African-American. Blume said the FCA was asked to include a female speaker, though he added that there were "no parameters, they just wanted a leader."

Matt Cleveland, a 17-year-old FCA leader at Knob Noster, and friend of Garris, said the Bush/Cheney people contacted the school looking specifically for a Christian minority woman to speak at the function.

However, the event was not all religious and ethnic posturing. Character and education were the staples of Cheney's talk.

He recited Republican support for school vouchers and the strong education record in Texas, saying, "Gov. Bush believes in accountability."

Coming from the soft-spoken Cheney the words sounded more like a mantra than a rallying cry.

But it was clear, building character was Cheney's primary message.

"Teaching kids equals character, character is what you do when no one is looking."