SANTA ANA — More than 100 local political candidates--including two officials running for top county posts--agree with Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa's positions on moral issues such as abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia, according to results of a controversial church survey released Thursday.
The 128 candidates for school boards, city councils, special districts and other offices answered "yes" to all pointed questions posed by church members in a locally unprecedented move into Orange County politics.
Members of the county's largest church have printed 10,000 copies of the 15-page "Concerned Parents Voter Guide," which they plan to distribute at the church before the Nov. 8 election.
More than half of the 512 candidates who received the surveys returned them. A dozen refused to adhere to the yes-or-no format and instead sent in longer responses, which were not included in the voter guide.
Among the 128 candidates who answered affirmatively to all the survey's questions were District 2 supervisorial candidate Jim Silva, who is a Republican city councilman from Huntington Beach, and County Clerk Gary L. Granville, who is running for the newly created post of clerk/recorder.
Their responses show they would oppose special legal protections for homosexuals, local laws providing abortion referrals to minors without parental consent, and policies restricting government employees' religious or political activity on the job. At the same time, they would support laws "restoring legal protection for unborn children from conception."
The 65 school board candidates who answered "yes" to everything supported abstinence-only sex education curricula and parental consent for "questionable materials" presented in the classroom, while opposing condom distribution, abortion counseling and health clinics on campus.
But in interviews Thursday, Silva and Granville backed away from some of their survey answers, saying the questions forced them to reduce complex issues to simple answers.
Granville said Thursday that he failed to read the questions carefully and that he sided with the church's positions because he is a fundamentalist Christian.
Granville also complained about the questions being irrelevant to the duties of the clerk/recorder's office--the reason his opponent, Lee A. Branch, cited for not responding to the survey at all.
"I (didn't) want to embarrass my church or cause any of the people in it any ill will toward me and make them think I'm a nonbeliever," Granville said. "We live in a world, particularly in Orange County, in which if you are with me, you are with me in all 10 points. If you are with me on nine, then you are not with me."
On the survey, Granville said he would oppose restrictions on "government employees' involvement in religious or political activities during work hours or while acting in an official capacity." In an interview, he said he would back employees who wanted to pray or study the Bible during breaks, but would not let them do so during working hours.
Silva said he supports only passive religious and political activity, such as the wearing of campaign buttons or religious symbols. Participating in a Bible study or campaigning during work hours would not be acceptable, he said.
"Some of (the questions), you don't like the way it's written and you'd like to explain it, but basically you have to say 'yes' or 'no'," Silva said. "If I believe in supporting Gov. (Pete) Wilson, I could wear a Gov. Wilson button to work. That shouldn't be a problem, (but) if an employee says 'I'm going to take an hour off and campaign for Pete Wilson,' that's wrong, they can't do that."
Huntington Beach Mayor Linda Moulton Patterson, Silva's Democratic opponent, was one of nearly 250 candidates who did not respond to the Calvary Chapel survey. Harvey Englander, a consultant who is running Moulton Patterson's campaign, chided Silva for participating.
"Those questions are so simplistic, it's almost criminal to respond to them. . . . You've got to be morally bankrupt to answer these things," Englander said. "Jim Silva will pander to any special interest at any given moment."
Legal experts said current law is murky on the limits of political and religious expression on the job.
State law prohibits public employees from using their offices to promote any candidate or position, and from seeking contributions from colleagues at work. It also bans uniformed workers from engaging in political activity on the job.
Government employees have broad protection of religious freedom, but courts have often restricted religious activity in public agencies to avoid a government endorsement of any specific doctrine, according to UCLA law professor Jonathan Varat and Jim Meade, an assistant Orange County counsel.
"The government doesn't hire people to promote religion. That's a no-no," said Varat, a constitutional expert who specializes in religious issues. "In the circumstance in which (religious activity) is occurring, does the government look like it's endorsing your religious point of view or is it just accommodating? If it's promoting or endorsing, that's a serious" problem.
David Hocking, a pastor at Calvary Chapel, said he is unsure whether members of the church will ever produce another voter's guide. Reproducing the surveys cost more than $2,700 and occupied several dozen volunteers for hundreds of hours, Hocking said. He added that no church money or staff time was used.
Hocking said that any future surveys would have questions framed in a more objective, less biased way.