Religion plays central role in Bell-Curren radio debate
The question came from a caller to the live 11 a.m. interview who said he wanted to know what Curren’s “religious persuasion” is. A similar issue was raised earlier in the campaign by a fellow Democrat, Tracy Pyles, who said he thought Curren’s Buddhist beliefs could be a hindrance to him at the polls in the 20th.
Curren answered the caller saying that he has attended many churches in his lifetime. “I started out as a Lutheran when I was a kid. I was confirmed as an Episcopalian when I was in college. And yes, I did get interested in Buddhism,” Curren said.
“I don’t think any public official should have to answer questions about their religion,” Curren said. “Thomas Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statutes of Religious Freedom at the beginning of our nation’s birth, and our nation is founded on the principles of religious freedom, religious tolerance.
“I’m very concerned that people are trying to apply a religious test, which is exactly what the British government did before the American Revolution. This is one of the things that makes America great, that this is a place where people of all religions and all races can live in harmony,” Curren said.
“I almost feel like some people think that if you don’t practice the same religion they do, then you’re not a real American, or you’re not a real Virginian, and to me, that’s just wrong,” Curren said.
Bell weighed in on the issue saying he agrees that religion shouldn’t be a voting issue. “The only problem I have is that early in this campaign, Mr. Curren took me to task with an online petition because I referred to Christian values of the 20th District,” Bell said, referring to a petition drive initiated by the Curren campaign this summer that called on Bell to apologize for a comment referring to residents of the 20th as “hardworking Christian individuals.”
“It can’t be either/or. Either we’re going to leave it out, or we’re going to bring it in,” Bell said.
The candidates also duked it out on the issue of their differing political philosophies. “I don’t like spending the taxpayers’ money unless we have to. I do believe in funding core services. I don’t want us to not fund education. I don’t want us to not fund transportation. I don’t want us to not fund health care. But I’m very sensitive to the fact that it’s someone else’s money, and I try to be very careful with it. The only promise I would make is if I go to Richmond, I’m going to take that same philosophy with me,” Bell said.
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail,” Curren said. “I’m not going to commit to spending money or not spending money. What I’m going to commit to is looking at each situation in particular and saying, You know what, it’s not a question of big government or small government, it’s a question of good government.
“I think it’s a false distinction to say you’ve got government on one side and the people on the other,” Curren said.
The two did agree – to a degree – on the ever-present dilemma of what to do about the congested Interstate 81.
“I don’t want to see an eight-lane highway out there,” Bell said. “I don’t think that’s the answer to our transportation problems. But I think because so much of 81 is located in a rural part of the state, we’re probably going to have to expand it, we’re probably going to have to engineer it to some degree. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think that the single answer lies in rail transportation or any other single method.”
“No single answer, definitely,” Curren said. There are places on 81 that are unsafe, and those need to be widened, perhaps a lane or two, in just those specific spots. The wholesale widening would be a big mistake. I think rail does need to be an important part of the solution. Putting the trucks on trains before they get into Virginia, taking them off the trains after they get out, it would save the state $4 billion if we did it that way.”
- Story by Chris Graham