WASHINGTON -- The Rev. Jerry Falwell, fundamentalist leader of the Moral Majority and a leading spokesman for the religious right, plans to spend most of the rest of the year combatting the nuclear freeze movement.
'The first order of business is coming back to (military) equality with the Soviet Union,' Falwell said in an interview. 'If the 'freezeniks' were to win it would be a national catastrophe.'
Falwell's entrance into the defense and foreign policy debate is something of a departure for the Lynchburg, Va., television evangelist.
'Moral Majority has always had a statement for strong national defense,' he said, 'but we have not emphasized it as we have our pro-life and pro-morality positions.'
But with increased attention on the nuclear freeze movement, Falwell said combatting those he calls the freezeniks must become a priority -- even, to some extent, at the expense of the anti-abortion and school prayer efforts.
Falwell said he had a recent private meeting with Richard Nixon and the former president told him:
'Jerry, all of us believe a little child should have the right to pray in school. But if you lose this one -- the nuclear freeze battle - you won't be praying anywhere.'
Falwell made his first forays into the movement last week, joining with the American Security Council's 'Peace Through Strength' group for a White House meeting with President Reagan, and attacking the freeze in full-page advertisements in The Washington Post.
Those ads, along with a speaking tour of the nation's campuses, prime time television programming and other media activities, will be the focus of his activities for the balance of the year, Falwell said.
Falwell said he believes in peace as much as any in the pro-freeze movement.
'As a minister ... I am for peace, I am for disarmament,' he said. 'I am praying for the day there are no nuclear weapons. Every believer in Christ would say 'amen' to that.'
'Yes, Jesus said, 'blessed are the peacemakers,'' he added, 'and that is why I believe in peace through strength. People who are pressing for peace through strength are the sincere peacemakers.'
Falwell dismissed those who would criticize religious figures for becoming involved in the nuclear weapons debate.
'I think the bishops have a right to address the issue,' he said. 'But I think they were misinformed in their position. I think they are sincere, but sincerely wrong and that this conclusion would be national suicide.'
The nation's Roman Catholic bishops are debating a proposed pastoral letter on nuclear weapons, strongly condemning any use of nuclear war, questioning the morality of possessing nuclear weapons and endorsing a bilateral, mutually verifiable freeze.
Falwell said he believes a majority of those in the nuclear freeze movement are sincere and well-intentioned, but that the movement itself was 'spawned and orchestrated in Moscow.'
'Look at Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore.,' he said. 'Who could question the sincerity of that man? I love him as a brother in Christ.'
'But they are being duped,' he said. 'These sincere people will rue the day' they supported the movement.