WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (AP)--Joseph Lieberman's upfront expressions ofreligious faith are making some constitutional activists and religiousscholars nervous. "Parading piety," one calls his words. But Al Gore's running mate is also drawing interest from an unlikely source--religious conservatives who have struggled through enduring ridicule toinject God into politics and now welcome the Democrat to the fight. More now than just a way of introducing himself to the nation, Lieberman'sinvocations of God are threaded through his campaign, and he's making noapologies. "I'm going to keep on doing what I'm doing because it's the American way,"he said Tuesday. "He's pushing it too far," said Martin E. Marty, emeritus professor at theUniversity of Chicago and a scholar who was initially upbeat when Liebermanbegan talking about his Jewish values in the campaign. Now Marty seesLieberman "parading piety."Even so, he says Lieberman is lending legitimacy to the right's decades-longcampaign to place religious values at the core of politics--a pointprecisely echoed by a leader of that effort. "While some Republicans dislike the Lieberman selection intently--itendangers their victory--for those who want to advance the cultural issues,this selection is a home run," said Paul M. Weyrich, president of theconservative Free Congress Foundation. "It validates cultural questions as the centerpiece of the nationalpolitical debate."Phyllis Schlafly, a figure from the early days of the Christian conservativemovement and still an influential activist, said she in some sense welcomeswhat Lieberman is doing even though he is at odds with her side on abortion,gay rights and more. "There's an element in this country that treats religious people likesmokers,'' she said--"'You can go down the dark alley and hide in thedoorway and have your cigarette, but for heaven's sake don't be around therest of us.'" But she added, "It's clearly a double standard" for people to attack theright while not calling Lieberman to account. So far the toughest response has come from the Anti-Defamation League, whosechairman and director joined in a statement saying an emphasis on religionis "inappropriate and even unsettling" in this religiously diversesociety. The league fights anti-Semitism. Gore said Lieberman "believes, as I do, in separation of church and state.I believe in what he's saying. He's a man of great faith and I knew thatwhen I selected him."Religious conservatives were not extending a wholehearted welcome toLieberman. Weyrich said he should have to explain how he squares his supportfor abortion rights with his religious values. And Schlafly attributed Lieberman's conduct to a political calculation bythe Gore campaign that religion sells and helps insulate Gore from PresidentClinton's moral failings.
Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani said Lieberman is speaking as his own man andlaughed at any notion that his words arise from some campaign strategy."We're not that organized," Fabiani said. John C. Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron, saysreligion and politics have become increasingly intermixed. "For mostAmericans," he said, Lieberman's religious discourse "is in their comfortzone."But he added: "It's one of those things that should be stamped, 'Handlewith Care.'"Lieberman pitched a Medicare prescription drug plan as something that servesthe spirit of the Fifth Commandment, which demands that mothers and fathersbe honored. Celebrating the Clinton-Gore administration's accomplishments,he said it was as if "the Red Sea finally parted and more Americans thanever before walked through behind President Clinton and Vice President AlGore."Comments like those troubled Green. "It's potentially dangerous,'' he said. "It connects, by rhetoric andsymbol, God's will with a particular policy prescription."Green's book, "The Diminishing Divide," written with three other authorsattached to the Pew Research Center, points to polls indicating that publicacceptance of religion in politics has grown since the 1960s. "Lieberman's argument that religious voices have a very important role toplay in political debate is something that many Americans will find quiteplausible," Green said. What's unusual is for a Democrat to be presentingthat argument, he said. Green and Marty agree that Lieberman is being judged differently thanreligious conservatives but said a double standard is in some waysunderstandable: Christian conservatives outnumber Jews and seek moreprofound changes in government than Lieberman has advocated. Lieberman has used some of the language more identified with conservativeevangelicals, including his contention that the Constitution does not demand"freedom from religion," but only freedom "of" religion. "This has gone way beyond what is appropriate for the political season,"said Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church andState.
"Your ability to understand Scripture may be appropriate in Iran," hesaid, "but it sure is not appropriate here."