WASHINGTON, Aug. 30 (AP)--Joseph Lieberman's upfront expressions of
religious faith are making some constitutional activists and religious
scholars 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 to
inject God into politics and now welcome the Democrat to the fight.
More now than just a way of introducing himself to the nation, Lieberman's
invocations of God are threaded through his campaign, and he's making no
"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 the
University of Chicago and a scholar who was initially upbeat when Lieberman
began talking about his Jewish values in the campaign. Now Marty sees
Lieberman "parading piety."
Even so, he says Lieberman is lending legitimacy to the right's decades-long
campaign to place religious values at the core of politics--a point
precisely echoed by a leader of that effort.
"While some Republicans dislike the Lieberman selection intently--it
endangers their victory--for those who want to advance the cultural issues,
this selection is a home run," said Paul M. Weyrich, president of the
conservative Free Congress Foundation.
"It validates cultural questions as the centerpiece of the national
Phyllis Schlafly, a figure from the early days of the Christian conservative
movement and still an influential activist, said she in some sense welcomes
what 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 like
smokers,'' she said--"'You can go down the dark alley and hide in the
doorway and have your cigarette, but for heaven's sake don't be around the
rest of us.'"
But she added, "It's clearly a double standard" for people to attack the
right while not calling Lieberman to account.
So far the toughest response has come from the Anti-Defamation League, whose
chairman and director joined in a statement saying an emphasis on religion
is "inappropriate and even unsettling" in this religiously diverse
society. 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 that
when I selected him."
Religious conservatives were not extending a wholehearted welcome to
Lieberman. Weyrich said he should have to explain how he squares his support
for abortion rights with his religious values.
And Schlafly attributed Lieberman's conduct to a political calculation by
the Gore campaign that religion sells and helps insulate Gore from President
Clinton's moral failings.
Gore spokesman Mark Fabiani said Lieberman is speaking as his own man and
laughed 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, says
religion and politics have become increasingly intermixed. "For most
Americans," he said, Lieberman's religious discourse "is in their comfort
But he added: "It's one of those things that should be stamped, 'Handle
Lieberman pitched a Medicare prescription drug plan as something that serves
the spirit of the Fifth Commandment, which demands that mothers and fathers
be honored. Celebrating the Clinton-Gore administration's accomplishments,
he said it was as if "the Red Sea finally parted and more Americans than
ever before walked through behind President Clinton and Vice President Al
Comments like those troubled Green.
"It's potentially dangerous,'' he said. "It connects, by rhetoric and
symbol, God's will with a particular policy prescription."
Green's book, "The Diminishing Divide," written with three other authors
attached to the Pew Research Center, points to polls indicating that public
acceptance of religion in politics has grown since the 1960s.
"Lieberman's argument that religious voices have a very important role to
play in political debate is something that many Americans will find quite
plausible," Green said. What's unusual is for a Democrat to be presenting
that argument, he said.
Green and Marty agree that Lieberman is being judged differently than
religious conservatives but said a double standard is in some ways
understandable: Christian conservatives outnumber Jews and seek more
profound changes in government than Lieberman has advocated.
Lieberman has used some of the language more identified with conservative
evangelicals, 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 and
"Your ability to understand Scripture may be appropriate in Iran," he
said, "but it sure is not appropriate here."