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From owner-aanews@atheists.org Tue Oct 24 21:06:25 2000
Date: Tue, 24 Oct 2000 20:33:02 EDT
Subject: NIGHT OWL Edition, AANEWS -- 10/24/00 -- Lieberman talk update!
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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 of us..."

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 from them..."

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 reversed...' "

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, "character education."

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 government.

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: http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/eleclob.htm (Archive of articles on the year 2000 election campaign)

http://www.atheists.org/public.square/charitablechoice.html (Both major tickets support a 'religion tax' to fund faith-based partnerships. Find out about this important issue..."

http://www.americanatheist.org (Head over to the Discussion Forum at the American Atheist Magazine web site to discuss the campaign.)


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