Patrick J. Buchanan, the conservative challenger to President Bush for the Republican presidential nomination, said Thursday that the rioting in Los Angeles is part of "a religious war that is going on for the soul of America" and blamed schools, pornography, movies, rock concerts and some churches for producing the lawbreakers.
Buchanan told more than 500 people at a prayer breakfast in Studio City that instead of new economic programs "what we need . . . is the reconversion of the American people."
He later told reporters that because people who riot are motivated by hatred, "I don't think we are reaching them by giving them money. . . . Americans were much poorer 200 years ago, or 100 years ago, and we didn't do things like this."
He was applauded at the 19th annual Valley Prayer Breakfast when he blamed public schools as one source of rioters in the aftermath of the not-guilty verdicts for the four officers in the Rodney G. King beating trial.
"They came out of schools where God, the Ten Commandments and moral instruction have been expelled and sex education, values clarification and condoms have been put in," he said.
Buchanan apparently was alluding to court decisions that have banned government-mandated devotional exercises in public schools and to "values clarification" curricula that conservatives claim reflect secular humanism rather than religious morality.
The columnist and television commentator also said that rioters are influenced by pornographic magazines sold in drugstores, films "where the priests, ministers and rabbis are mocked and ridiculed," rock concerts that celebrate "hatred, violence and hedonism," and churches "which are given over to politics and social action rather than instruction in morality and religious values."
Buchanan, who stands to benefit from increased political activism by fundamentalist churches, said to reporters: "I don't believe that churches should avoid social action, but I don't believe that can be their highest calling."
The prayer breakfast, which heard a prayer and a Bible reading from rabbis, nevertheless reflected a conservative Christian viewpoint. Gerald Nordskog, who heads a group that teaches biblical interpretations of the U.S. Constitution, chaired the event and Sara DeVito Hardman, state director of Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition, was the program chairwoman.
Buchanan compared the attitude of looters in the Los Angeles riots to "the laughter and rejoicing of barbarians" throughout history as well as to the fascist Brownshirts and the communist Red Guards of this century.
He said that "the enemy" in the religious war is eating away at moral standards. "While some of us devoted our lives to fighting the Cold War . . . we missed the big picture somehow," he said.
Buchanan, a Roman Catholic, will continue his religious theme as the commencement speaker Saturday at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. His announced topic is "War for the Soul of America."
The prayer breakfast also heard Rep. William E. Dannemeyer (R-Fullerton), a candidate for a U.S. Senate nomination, rap liberal educational philosophies of the last 50 years and U.S. Supreme Court decisions against school prayers.
"Should we be surprised that this generation of kids has trouble respecting human life and property with the standards that God gave man to live by?" Dannemeyer asked.