On the floor of the convention, a major topic of conversation centers on the nomination of the first Jewish person to a national ticket.
Senator Lieberman's commitment to Orthodox Judaism has been explored from many angles. I want to examine it from a slightly different perspective.
The Lieberman nomination challenges the propaganda so often heard from the religious right that this country was founded as a Christian nation and all of our current problems result from deviating from those roots. That is indeed revisionist history.
The fact is that the architects of the American Revolution were more the products of the enlightenment of the 18th century than they were sectarian believers. Thomas Paine was called that "dirty little atheist" by his critics. Benjamin Franklin declined to have the Continental Congress opened with prayer, because he said we will have no foreign intervention at this gathering. Thomas Jefferson was a thoroughgoing deist.
History reveals that our forefathers were committed to the freedom of religion, to religious toleration, to building a country where all religious traditions were to be honored, but where no religious tradition was ever to be imposed. That standard has persevered now for 225 years. Among our presidents have been specifically non-church-affiliated men like Abraham Lincoln, who was so offended by the claims of competing denominations that he steadfastly refused to join any of them. Even Dwight Eisenhower had never been baptized when he ran for president in 1952.
Religion seems to become a divisive force in this nation only if its adherents try to violate this basic principle of toleration. The first presence of the Roman Catholic candidate on the Democratic ticket in 1928 raised that fear, but John Kennedy's pledge not to allow his Roman Catholic religion to affect public policy put that fear to rest in 1960.
In recent years, it has been the activity and rhetoric of the Christian right that has once again raised this anxiety. Religious lobbying efforts to impose a particular church's view of abortion on the whole population or to forbid the equal legal treatment for homosexual people because it is opposed to the way some people read the Bible are just two illustrations of this point of view.
I welcome Senator Lieberman to the national ticket because he symbolizes that the dream of our founding fathers are still operative, and it remains the cornerstone of this democracy.
People will vote for or against the Gore-Lieberman ticket for many reasons. Senator Lieberman's religion, however, should not be one of them.
This is John Shelby Spong speaking to you live from the floor of the Democratic National Convention.