From AUcorbin@aol.com Thu Aug 24 07:31:33 2000
Date: Wed, 23 Aug 2000 21:34:45 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: AU Press Clipping: Religion & Politics -- and -- Prayer at Football Games
Religion, politics becoming uneasy mix, some say; Policy issues taking
a back seat to piety
By Miles Benson, The New Orleans Times-Picayune,
The 2000 presidential election could be Thomas Jefferson's worst nightmare.
Jefferson, the Democratic Party's founder, warned Americans about political
leaders who preach about religion.
He wrote his clear, strong views on religion's place in politics into a model
law on religious liberty, denouncing "the impious presumption of legislators
and rulers, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men ... setting up
their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible."
More than 200 years later, Jefferson's concerns have special resonance in a
presidential race in which Democrat Al Gore, a Southern Baptist who often
talks about his devout faith, has picked for his vice presidential running
mate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the first Jew on a major party's national ticket,
who talks intensely about his own religious beliefs.
Lieberman, who told a gathering of Black Caucus members in Los Angeles that
he is "a very frustrated preacher," invoked God a dozen times in his first
public speech after Gore invited him to join the ticket.
Opposing them are Republican Gov. George W. Bush, who calls Christ his
favorite political philosopher and who proclaimed last June 10 "Jesus Day" in
Texas, and his vice presidential running mate, former Defense Secretary Dick
Cheney. The Republican ticket is depending heavily on support from the
Add to that the ongoing religious arguments over school prayer, abortion, gay
rights and moral values in general, and you have a mix that is raising
concerns among partisans on each side and independent outside observers.
President, not pastor
Adopted in Virginia, Jefferson's statute said, "No man shall be compelled to
support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be
enforced, restrained or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall suffer on
account of his religion, opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free
to profess their opinions in matters of religion."
It's all too much for Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for
Separation of Church and State and a minister in the United Church of Christ.
"We are having an election for president, not selecting a pastor for a church
nor a rabbi for a synagogue," Lynn said. "It's important to get off the
religion talk and into talk about policy issues."
Lynn worries that the election may become "a contest about who can appear the
most pious. That ought to be irrelevant to the selection of presidential
nominees. It sends the signal that holy scripture instead of the Constitution
is the basis for making laws, and that is a very dangerous idea. This is
still a democracy, not a theocracy."
Lynn is not alone.
"This is incredibly overdone, and Lieberman topped it all," said Larry
Sabato, a professor of political science at the University of Virginia. "If
the Republicans did what Lieberman did, I expect the American Civil Liberties
Union would be all over them," Sabato said.
"That's coming very close to the line of separation of church and state, if
it isn't crossing over it, and it's going to get worse," Sabato said. "You
can see the direction we're moving."
It could become "troublesome," agreed Thomas Mann, a political analyst at the
Brookings Institution. "It's not there yet. Some people are a little
uncomfortable how we moved from intense secularism to a period of intense
religiosity. We'll go back somewhere to a balance," Mann predicted.
Religion on their sleeves
"But given the nature and extent to which religion has been an advantage to
the Republicans, the Democrats are determined to wear religion on their
sleeves right now, but it does not threaten separation of church and state.
They're just self-consciously engaged in sharing their religious concern on
It's troublesome to Morshed Alam, a Democratic convention delegate from New
York, who is a Muslim.
"For power, politicians are trying to bring religion into politics," Alam
said. "I think it is divisive and works against inclusion."
Al From, the influential head of the Democratic Leadership Council, an
organization of centrist Democrats, said Republicans have sought to "take
advantage" of religion for political gain, but he said he is not worried,
"yet," about the amount of religious discussion in this campaign. "This is a
religious country. It's not surprising that is reflected in politics," he
According to Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, voters value spirituality
and want candidates to possess religious beliefs. At both conventions, Luntz
conducted focus group studies with swing voters, recording their responses to
the political speeches.
These voters reacted sharply to religious rhetoric, Luntz said.
"It all depends on context," Luntz said. "If you talked about Bill Clinton's
specific behavior and then you started to preach about it, independents and
Democrats responded very negatively to that. But if you were talking about
standards in general, without mentioning Bill Clinton, then the reaction was
completely positive. Nuance matters," Luntz said.
National Grassroots Organizer
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
518 C Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20002