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Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 20:33:02 EDT
Subject: NIGHT OWL Edition, AANEWS -- 10/24/00 -- Lieberman talk update!
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from: AMERICAN ATHEISTS
subject: AANEWS for October 24, 2000 (Night Owl Edition)
Lieberman again claims "no freedom from religion" in Notre
Dame address; cites Judeo_Christian roots of America
In American Atheists Night Owl Edition, #838
24 October 2000
Candidate Sees Growing Divide Between Ecumenical Faith, Secularist Non-Belief
In a "Faith and Values" speech at Notre Dame University today,
Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman called
for a greater role for religious groups in the public square, and
again declared that "the Constitution promises freedom of religion,
not freedom from religion. We are after all not just another nation,
but 'one nation under God.' "
The 45-minute talk included a slew of religious references
supporting Lieberman's claim that Americans had become "ambivalent"
about faith and its expression in the public square. At times, the
Connecticut Democrat seemed to be borrowing phrases from his
Republican opponents or even religious right partisans like Pat
Robertson who for years have been arguing that America is a country
based firmly on a religious foundation.
"Faith and the values that flow from it were central to the founding
of this country," Lieberman declared. "They have always shaped and
stirred our national conscience. And now, at this moment of moral
uncertainty, I believe our best hope for rekindling the American
spirit and renewing our common values is to have faith again. Not
just in our hearts but in our communities. Not just in our private
places of worship, but in our public spaces of conversation. And not
just in our separate beliefs, but in our common commitment to our
common purposes as Americans."
Lieberman, who has taken heat from within his own party for
incorporating religious rhetoric into the Democratic campaign, pounded
away at related themes, though. He declared, "America is the first
nation that was founded not just as a set of border, but a set of
ideals that we are all created equal by God, that we are all endowed
by our creator (sic) with inalienable rights, that we should all be
free to pursue our dreams and realize the potential God gave every one
Other portions of Lieberman talk discussed the role of religious faith
and movements in "civil society."
"This is something the Founders understood implicitly and wrote
explicitly into the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
They were men of profound faith and recognized as such the necessity
of religion in a free society."
The Founders such as Washington, Adams and Madison "were saying
(that) our ideas, the inviolability of our rights, and the mission of
our republic were inextricably linked to our belief in God and a higher
law... They knew that our experiment in self-government was
contingent on our faith in the Creator who endowed us with the
alienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
"We are still arguably the most religiously observant people on
earth and still share a near universal belief in God. But you
wouldn't know it from our national public life today. The line
between church and state is an important one and has always been
critical for us to draw, but in recent years we have gone far beyond
what the Framers ever imagined in separating the two..."
"This shared interfaith concern (over secularism and nonbelief) is
about consequences, the price we have paid for our moral ambivalence.
By driving religion from the public square, we have gone a long way
toward dislodging our values from their mooring in moral truth. The
tablets that Moses brought down from the top of Mount Sinai were not
the Ten Suggestions, as Ted Koppel has pointed out, they were the Ten
Commandments. But more and more people feel free to pick and choose
Lieberman warned of a growing ethos of "ambivalence" concerning
religion and its expression in the public square, suggesting that "we
have practically banished religious values and religious institutions"
and created a "discomfort zone -- ironically making religion one of
the few remaining socially acceptable targets of intolerance."
He cited peculiar examples. One was the case of liberal religious
activist Rev. Jim Wallis of the Call to Renewal movement, who
recently taught a course at the Harvard University Kennedy School of
Government. Lieberman noted that after giving a talk about religion
and public life, the first question from the audience was, "Jim, what
about the Inquisition?"
Released Text Omitted Religious Conflict Zones
Lieberman's speech was carried on the C-Span network which put the
talk up on its web site in REAL AUDIO/VIDEO. The Democratic campaign
also released a full-text version of "prepared" remarks which came
just hours after Lieberman's talk at Notre Dame and the first
Associated Press story written by reporter Brigitte Greenberg. The
"prepared," sanitized text, did not reflect the full content. Omitted
was a brief story where Lieberman referred to two of the world's most
divided and contentious religious hotspots, Ireland and the Holy Land
of Israel/Jordan. The Democratic candidate told the story of two
acquaintances, one a Catholic, the other a Jew, traveling to these
respective areas. Lieberman awkwardly attempted to extract a lesson
in ecumenical tolerance from their travels in regions of the world
torn by violent religious sectarianism and belief.
Flirting With Censorship, Religious Prudery
Other portions of Lieberman's paean to religious faith could have been
lifted from religious right sources, a fact that has led some
political pundits to suggest that the Democratic ticket is
"triangulating" on the morals and values issues which have
traditionally been fertile Republican campaign soil. Lieberman
continued the attacks launched last month against the entertainment
industry, saying that he and Mr. Gore "are committed to standing up
and speaking out for those families who often feel powerless to
protect their children from the corrosive culture around them."
Putting out his own ambivalent message, Lieberman tried to reassure
listeners that he and Gore "are both devout believers in the First
Amendment, but we have done and we will continue to do whatever we
constitutionally can to give voice to the voiceless, to empower
parents with new technologies to guard our oldest values, and to
persistently prod the entertainment industry to fulfill the
responsibilities that come with their rights..."
He singled out violent and salacious entertainment, and mentioned the
threat of Federal Trade Commission standards which critics fear could
lead to more blatant forms of government censorship.
Lieberman then appropriated another name from the religious right
lexicon, neoconservative Catholic theologian Michael Novak. He did
not mention Novak's ties to Unification Church cult leader Sun Myung
Moon's Freedom Fund, or the Institute for Religious Democracy which
backed "faith-based" Contra terrorist movements in Nicaragua and
elsewhere during the Reagan administration. Instead, Lieberman
praised Novak, another "civil society" exponent for some of his
select remarks on popular culture.
"Our challenge now is to think about how we can expand the current
spiritual awakening... The Catholic theologian Michael Novak has
thought about this and wisely advised: 'Americans are starved for good
conversations about important matters of the human spirit. In
Victorian England, religious devotion was not a forbidden topic of
conversation, sex was. In America today, the inhibitions are
Using The Podium To Encourage Religion
Lieberman also called for more religion in an area which has caused
Atheists, believers in minority faiths and others considerable
problems -- the public schools. Despite problems with schools obeying
constitutional guidelines concerning the limits of religious
expression and the effort to transform them into religious
battlegrounds, Lieberman unambiguously urged people to find
"constitutional ways to honor and express faith in God." He also
voiced praise for another area fraught with legal problems,
In no uncertain words, the Democratic number-two candidate laid much
of the blame for social ills at the doorstep of secularism. He noted
that "in communities across America, people of faith are working to
repair some of the worst effects of our damaged moral and cultural
life, and because of their good works and that of others, we have made
real progress in reducing teen pregnancy, youth violence and abuse."
He went on to praise forms of "community service," but steered clear
of calling for a National Service Draft as an alternative to
compulsory military conscription.
An Ecumenical "Great Awakening"
Several minutes of Lieberman's Notre Dame talk was spent discussing
the history of so-called "Great Awakenings" in America, periods of
fervent religious revival (and often authoritarian excess) which, he
suggested, prompted great reforms. He attempted to link the American
Revolution was the "first Great Awakening," which put the country "on
the road to independence and freedom and equality." He selectively
ignored the influences of the Enlightenment philosophers, including
those who saw the alliance between government and religion as a threat
to the liberation of humanity. Lieberman then opined that the 19th
century Second Awakening "gave birth to the abolitionist movement,"
and suggested that the civil rights movement of the 1960s lay in yet
another outburst of religious zeal.
"Space" For Religion, Not Atheism & Secularism?
Lieberman appeared to make token reassurances that Atheists (he did
not mention the "A-word" specifically, though) and those who might
embrace a robust secularist vision need not worry that he was "coming
dangerously close to the church-state dividing line because I have
spoken the name of God in campaign speeches and suggested that
religious faith can be a source of public morality."
"They seem to have forgotten that the Constitution promises freedom of
religion, not freedom from religion..."
He cited a "wave of anxiety and apprehension" from some over his
podium-proselytizing, contrasting it with the giddy encounters with
Jews, Catholics, Southern Baptists and others who informed him that
"we're with you" in his political campaign.
"But there has been another equally eye-opening and less-inspiring
side to this experience," said Lieberman, referring to the concerns of
secularists. Playing both sides of the issue, he continued: "I am
ever more certain that we as leaders have to do more to help people
understand that we can draw this constitutional, political and
spiritual line in a way that includes the best forces of faith in our
public life without excluding those who do not share our beliefs, and
certainly without 'establishing' a religion."
He didn't say how.
Continuing A Bad Precedent
Mr. Lieberman has been under scrutiny for his remarks on the role of
organized religion and faith in the public square ever since being
tapped for the vice presidential slot by Al Gore. In August, he began
to raise eyebrows when he gushed to a Detroit congregation that, "as a
people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our
nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes." The Anti-Defamation
League and other groups, including American Atheists, raised concerns.
ADL warned that emphasizing personal religious faith might be
"inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society
such as ours."
Today, though, Lieberman played the "diversity card," quoting from the
Bible, the Koran and the Torah -- but not any writings from the
Founders of the American Republic or others who were Atheistic,
Deistic (believing in "Nature's God" or the Masonic "Great Architect
of the Universe") or certainly skeptical of melding religion and
The remarks, though, suggest what could be the tone of the few days
left in the year 2000 election campaign. Most polls show Texas Gov.
George W. Bush with a slight lead, although the race is tightening,
and several key states could tip to either major party candidate.
Religious rhetoric, symbols and groups continue to be important
campaign props. Both Bush and Gore have pledged to carve out "special
rights' for religious groups, and secure public funding for
faith-based social programs. There is little room in this political
campaign, anyway, for the separation of church and state. As for the
issue of "inclusion," those who qualify apparently must accept
premises which seem to be shared by all the major candidate -- that
America is "one nation under God."
For further information:
(Archive of articles on the year 2000 election campaign)
(Both major tickets support a 'religion tax' to fund faith-based
partnerships. Find out about this important issue..."
(Head over to the Discussion Forum at the American Atheist Magazine web site
to discuss the campaign.)
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