President Bush has said some of the tactics used by radical AIDS activists are "an excess of free speech" and called "offensive" some of their attacks on Roman Catholic Cardinal John O'Connor.
In an interview with reporters from religious media, Bush also said he thinks parents should have a say in whether schools distribute condoms to youngsters."My own view is we want the parents involved," the president said. "We want to strengthen the family, not weaken it. . . . And one way you do it is through consulting, helping your children when they have problems of this nature - of sexual liberty or whatever you want to call it."
The White House on Friday refused to release a transcript of Bush's remarks, which came at a March 28 roundtable with selected religion reporters. A substantial portion of the session was obtained from the National Catholic Reporter newspaper. Washington Bureau Chief Joseph Feuerhard said he was excluded from the meeting, but another NCR reporter obtained a transcript from one of the participants.
Bush had especially harsh words for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, an activist group that has become known for using civil disobedience to gain attention. ACT UP has frequently been at odds with Cardinal O'Connor of New York and has been criticized for disrupting Mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral.
"I think ACT UP resorts to tactics that are totally counterproductive," Bush told the reporters. "It is an excess of free speech to use, to resort to some of the tactics these people use. . . . I find it offensive, the attacks against Cardinal O'Connor."
Bush also said he has tried "to be very sensitive to the question of babies suffering from AIDS, innocent people that are hurt by this disease."
That remark in particular upset gay activists, such as Robert Bray, a spokesman for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
"When will the White House learn that all people with AIDS are innocent and that to designate only some as innocent implies that some are guilty?" he asked Friday.
Bush also said he was uncomfortable with his own public display of religion, given his office.
"I don't want to act like I'm holier than thou, or that I want to wear my religion on my sleeve, or that I'm the guy in the temple beating his breast and praying the loudest," he said.
"And yet I want to do what many that have gone before me have done, and that is to try to amplify as best as one can that we are one nation under God. And let others determine what God is and how that God operates."
The group he addressed included Catholics, Jews, and mainstream and evangelical Protestants. Bush, an Episcopalian, said no president "ought to involve himself in any way in indicating a preference for denomination."