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From owner-aanews@atheists.org Sat Mar 3 06:40:06 2001
Subject: AANEWS for Friday, March 2, 2001
Date: Fri, 2 Mar 2001 19:08:38 -0500
Precedence: bulk
From: owner-aanews@atheists.org
To: brownh@hartford-hwp.com

Lieberman praises New Spiritual Awakening, reaffirms support for faith-based legislation

American Atheists, #890, 2 March 2001

Possible 2004 Prez Candidate Says Nation of Islam, Moonies Should Be Eligible For Taxpayer Funding Of Religion-Tainted Social Programs.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman yesterday confirmed earlier reports that he would be point man in the Senate to introduce legislation on behalf of President Bush's new faith-based partnership programs, and praised what he described as a new spiritual awakening in America characterized by religious tolerance, and interest in promoting things spiritual.

Speaking at a meeting of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., Lieberman made his first detailed statements concerning taxpayer funding of religion-based social programs since the November election. Lieberman ran for the number two position along with then-Vice President Al Gore; his presence during the campaign energized the debate over the role of religious faith and institutions in the public square.

Millions of Americans want religion to play a bigger role in our society, Lieberman told his audience on Thursday. Echoing the rhetoric of the recent election campaign, the Connecticut senator added that Americans presumably embrace an increasingly inclusive vision of faith, leading to more toleration of diverse religious viewpoints and beliefs.

There was also the inevitable discourse of polarization, with Lieberman calling for more religiosity in partisan politics. He said that he taken up the calling of my own personal political mission ... to have people of faith feel equally welcome in the Democratic Party as they are in the Republican Party. Referring to the politics of the 1960s and 70s, he added, Democrats seemed to be sending a message out that there was not respect for people of religion, that the party was dominated by nonbelievers, but, more than that, that faith was not thought to be in fashion.

Backs The Bush Faith Agenda

According to this morning's Washington Post, Lieberman will follow through on co-sponsoring legislation with Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) that would crank up funding and expansion of President Bush's new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In our February 14 issue, AANEWS reported that the Lieberman-Santorum bill was mirrored in the House by legislation crafted by Oklahoma Republican J.C. Watts Jr. and Rep. Tony Hall, who represents Ohio's third congressional district.

The move, says Post reporter Thomas Edsall, would effectively make Lieberman the Democratic point man for President Bush's 'faith-based initiative.'

Lieberman's talk to the Pew Trust concentrated on a range of First Amendment issues and, according to Edsall, was characterized by the Connecticut Democrat often taking stands opposed by civil libertarians and many mainstream Jewish organizations.

Discussing an emerging controversy concerning faith-based partnerships between government and religious organizations, Lieberman declared that groups like Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church and the Nation of Islam headed by Louis Farrakhan should be eligible for public funding if they operate social programs addressing problems like drug treatment and child mentoring.

It would probably be problematic on First Amendment grounds to discriminate against faith-based groups for their particular beliefs, declared Lieberman. Instead, he said that such organizations should be judged on what they do.

Christian organizations which proselytize to convert Jews or other groups should also be given public funding, as long as the money is not directly used to pressure people to change their religious views, he added. Lieberman also said that he does not object to the provision of the 1994 welfare reform act which allowed religious groups to compete for government social service contracts, or legislation that allows these faith-based groups to discriminate in hiring or in other policy areas on account of religion.

The toughest part of the faith-based initiative debate, said Lieberman, involves public funding of prison rehab and drug treatment programs that incorporate religious belief, including acceptance of Jesus, as a necessary component. Does society have more to fear from a rehabilitated drug addict who has broken his habit through an expressly religion-based treatment program than an untreated, unrehabilitated addict? Lieberman asked.

Public Bucks For Private Bigots, Cranks?

Lieberman's suggestion that the Nation of Islam could and should receive public funds for its religion-based social mission touched upon what critics say is a major flaw in the federal faith-based initiative. Mainstream religious groups may find a degree of public support for their funding, but what about fringe sects, cults and other bizarre movements, such as the racist Christian Identity church, or Scientology?

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league said that he was flabbergasted by Lieberman's blind spot in seeing the Nation of Islam for what it is: a racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic organization. Foxman and his group met last week with John DiIulio, head of the White House office which is in charge of the Bush faith initiative, and supposedly were given guarantees that the NOI would not be receiving public funds. Other information, though, indicates that fringe groups are moving ahead with plans to solicit subsidies from DiIulio's office, and may use equal access as a legal strategy to ensure that they -- and not just mainstream denominations -- are provided funding.

A spokesman for the Nation of Islam criticized Foxman's characterization of the group as promoting hatred. People can say what they want, said Don Muhammad in a statement to the Boston Globe, but we have a lot of Jewish support in this town, and the work of the Nation of Islam speaks for itself. He added that it was doubtful that the NOI would seek funding, however.

We don't believe it is in the best interest of any religion to get involved with government, said Muhammad. There are a lot of people who want to get on the Titanic. I would rather ride Noah's Ark.

For more information:

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith5.htm (Religion Tax office opens as fringe groups poised to demand cash, 2/21/01

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith4.htm (Bush promotes faith at prayer breakfast: bipartisan support for new White House office, 2/3/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith3.htm (Transcript of Executive Order establishing White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/faith2.htm (One vote in Supreme Court upheld state aid to religious groups, 1/31/01)

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/elec21.htm (Lieberman again: no freedom FROM religion, 10/26/00)

http://www.atheists.org/public.square/charitablechoice.html (Charitable Choice, Faith-based Partnerships and the Public Funding of Religion)