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The founding fathers of Poland's revolution are in the throes of replaying one of the epic events in the American Revolution - the drafting of a constitution - and are finding the pas-sions as hot now as they were in Philadelphia 200 years ago.

The dispute centers on an age-old American constitutional question: separation of church and state. Polish President Lech Walesa told us he favored separation of the two institutions but will oppose codifying it in the constitution expected to be completed this fall.Already, political leaders are drawing battle lines: Leftist parties are objecting to Catholic intrusion into Polish political life. The scheduled visit of Pope John Paul II, a native Pole, is expected to fuel the controversy.

Critics, such as the eloquent Jacek Kuron, a longtime Walesa adviser and former minister of labor, believe that the church should not be imposed on the people. As in the United States, abortion looms as a litmus test issue.

Kuron and others have been appalled that the Walesa government was ready to make it illegal without first holding a national referendum. Poland's vice minister of health, who wanted all birth control methods, including condoms, made illegal, represented that country's pro-life movement. Poles identify themselves as Roman Catholic overwhelmingly. During the communist years, the church embodied both nationalism and anti-communism.

Walesa carries the balancing scales of church and state on his shoulders, and unconvincingly argues that the conflict exists outside Poland only. Pressed on the question, Walesa finally took this approach - that it wasn't necessary to include religion in law. He explained:

"Legislation will not resolve matters of conscience. You would get just the opposite effect. Our church will not do anything which would be imposed, and which would lose them support."

For his own personal life, he leaves little room for question. Walesa was quick to note that he remains a devout Catholic as president, even more so now as he reaches out for spiritual aid.

Walesa's deeds provide more detail to his hazy pronouncements. When he chose the first non-communist prime minister of Poland in 1989, there were three finalists. One was Kuron, and one was Bronislaw Geremek, who is described as the "James Madison" of the Polish constitutional process.

But Polish sources believe it was the "Catholicness" of the third candidate, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, that won him the slot. Geremek is a non-practicing Jew and Kuron, falsely rumored to be Jewish, was simply deemed "not Catholic enough" for Walesa's and the church's support at the time.

In the coming months, Poland will have to blaze its own trail through this constitutional thicket of competing interests.