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Reagan defends rights record

President Reagan defended his economic and social agenda before an audience of lawyers and judges at the American Bar Association's annual meeting in Atlanta. However, many participants in the ABA's panel discussions here criticized the President for insensitivity to women and blacks and for what some perceive as a lack of compassion for the plight of poor people, reports Monitor correspondent Curtis J. Sitomer.

Sounding more and more like a candidate for reelection next year, Mr. Reagan insisted he was committed to equal rights and opportunities for all. But he said this couldn't be accomplished through reverse discrimination and job quotas.

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The President repeated general commitments to curb federal spending and to check crime, partly by putting less emphasis on the rights of the accused and more on victims' rights. He defended his nominees to the Civil Rights Commission , calling them ''independent.''

''They don't worship at the altar of forced busing and mandatory quotas,'' Mr. Reagan said.

In asking for support for a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary school prayer, the President said: ''The First Amendment was not written to protect the people from religious freedom. The First Amendment was written to protect people's beliefs from religious tyranny.''

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