Today the nation pauses to remember President Gerald R. Ford, who died Dec. 26 at age 93.
Ford will probably always be best remembered for his controversial decision to offer a pardon to disgraced President Richard M. Nixon. We will leave the historians to debate the appropriateness of that move.
We'd like to remember Ford as a political moderate who was wary of mixing religion and politics. Ford tended to maintain a low profile after leaving office, but on a few occasions he did speak out when he believed the Republican Party was going astray. The GOP's tendency to get cozy with the Religious Right definitely concerned him.
Early in 1998, Ford warned his fellow Republicans that an obsession with social issues was not healthy. He noted that he and his wife, Betty, held pro-choice views on abortion and expressed a desire to de-politicize the issue.
Ford told The New York Times, "But how do you extract it from the arena? I can't tell you. You've got zealots who are determined."
A few months later, Ford struck again. In another Times interview, the ex-president warned about the rise of religious absolutism within the GOP. Ford reiterated his support for legal abortion and also backed gay rights and public funding of the arts.
Ford defended his values against Religious Right criticisms, remarking, "I'll put mine up to theirs any day."
As president, Ford appointed John Paul Stevens, a strong advocate of church-state separation, to the Supreme Court. Ford's vice-president was Nelson Rockefeller, a former New York governor long associated with the now-defunct liberal wing of the Republican Party.
Ford was a true moderate whose sensible stands are anathema to today's Religious Right. One can only hope that even in death his views will continue to survive. They offer a strong challenge to the theocratic vision offered by the Religious Right.