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Involvement with church may be clue to priorities of Miers

WASHINGTON -- One evening in the 1980s, several years after Harriet E. Miers dedicated her life to Jesus Christ, she attended a lecture at her Dallas evangelical church with Nathan Hecht, a colleague at her law firm and her on-and-off boyfriend. The speaker was Paul Brand, a surgeon and the author of ''Fearfully and Wonderfully Made," a best-selling exploration of God and the human body.

When the lecture was over, Miers said words Hecht had never heard from her before. ''I'm convinced that life begins at conception," Hecht recalled her saying. According to Hecht, now a Texas Supreme Court justice, Miers has believed ever since that abortion is ''taking a life."

''I know she is prolife," said Hecht, one of the most conservative judges in Texas. ''She thinks that after conception, it's not a balancing act -- or if it is, it's a balancing of two equal lives."

Hecht and other confidants of Miers all pledge that if the Senate confirms her nomination to the Supreme Court, her judicial values will be guided by the law and the Constitution. But they say her personal values have been shaped by her abiding faith in Jesus and by her membership in the massive red-brick Valley View Christian Church, where she was baptized as an adult, served on the missions committee, and taught religion. At Valley View, pastors preach that abortion is murder, that the Bible is the literal word of God, and that homosexuality is a sin -- although they also preach that God loves everybody.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino declined to comment on Hecht's recollection Tuesday, but said President Bush did not ask Miers her personal views on abortion or any other issue that may come before the court. ''A nominee who shares the president's approach of judicial restraint would not allow personal views to affect his or her rulings based on the law," Perino said.

Some religious conservatives have expressed deep dissatisfaction with the Miers nomination, contending that she has never taken public stands on hot-button social issues. But her friends point to Valley View as evidence that she is cut from conservative cloth. They say she's not a ''holy roller" who flaunts her religion on her sleeve, but she lives her faith as a born-again Christian.

''People in Dallas know she's a conservative," said her friend Ed Kinkeade, a federal district judge. ''She's not Elmer Gantry, but she lives what she believes. . . . I'm like, y'all, has George Bush appointed anyone to an appellate court that is a betrayal to conservatives?"

Hecht remembers that when Miers made partner at their law firm, the first woman ever to do so, she began to question what life was all about. He said they would often put their feet up and trade big questions: Is there a God? Who is He? What difference does it make?

Miers had attended Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches as a girl, and her mother was religious, but Miers told Hecht she wanted a ''deeper faith." Hecht believes she may have supported abortion rights at the time, although he said she had not thought about it much.

''Well, let's go to my church," Hecht told her.

That was Valley View, where Hecht played the organ and taught Sunday school. It was a church, pastor Ron Key said, that believed in ''the Judeo-Christian perspective on the sanctity of life" and ''the Christian perspective on marriage."

There are antiabortion pamphlets inside the church and literature opposing premarital sex. Key and his wife, Kaycia, said they never asked Miers what she thought about those issues, because they never thought they had to.

''We've known Harriet for 30 years, and we've never had any reason to discuss these hot topics," Kaycia Key said. ''But I can say one thing: She's a totally committed Christian."

But Miers is breaking away from the church where she embraced Jesus. In recent years, church elders have moved to cut back on missionary work, sparking a split this summer among the parishioners. Key is forming a church that plans to donate half its revenues to mission work, and Miers plans to join him.

''These days so many of the churches have become Christian country clubs," Key said. ''They are more about making you feel good about yourself than making you grow. Some of us, including Harriet, were uncomfortable with all this."

But if Miers is leaving her church, the church is not leaving her. Kaycia Key said she expects to see the next Supreme Court justice in the pews, singing enthusiastically, if not skillfully. ''Let's just say she makes a joyful noise unto the Lord," Key said. ''She doesn't hesitate to sing out."

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