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subject: AANEWS for August 29, 2000

The beat goes on: Lieberman again cites religion; ADL calls for restraint, American Atheists speak out

AANews, #809, 29 August 2000

Is the religious rhetoric and posturing of election year 2000 out of control?

Today, candidates on both sides of the political divide continued their effort to appeal to faith-based groups and cite the virtues of religious belief, despite calls for a "cease fire" in what has become a rhetorical war of faith.

  • Democratic Vice Presidential hopeful Joseph Lieberman continued to push the state-church boundary in an address at an interfaith prayer breakfast in Chicago attended by over 150 members of the clergy. The Connecticut senator declared that "religion is a source of unity and strength in America," adding "This is the most religious country in the world, and sometimes, we try to stifle that fact or hide it."

    "But the profound and ultimately, most important reality," continued Lieberman, "is that we are not only citizens of this blessed country, we are citizens of the same awesome God."

    Press reports noted that Lieberman received a warm and friendly reception at the prayer breakfast, and praised the ecumenical nature of the gathering "because it makes real for me what I have believed with profound faith throughout my life, that religion is a source of unity and strength in America." Meeting afterwards at another interfaith soiree, Lieberman quoted from a Hebrew song that calls for "brothers and sisters to dwell together in harmony."

    Tagging along was Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who acknowledged the importance of religion in the political arena.

    "We know there's separation of church and state in America," said Daley, "but at the same time, elected officials realize that they're all citizens right here, as well as religious leaders. Their congregations are citizens as well, and that's why you have to build this relationship up."

    The Chicago Tribune newspaper noted that the prayer breakfast included "an A-list of influential South Side ministers and dozens of rabbis." Pointing to the synchronicity of the political strategies of the two major parties, the Tribune added: "In a close race that does not yet have a dominant issue, both campaigns have used religious faith and religious language to build an image of integrity."

    Lieberman's schmooze-fest with Chicago clergy reflected a strategy employed by successful local politicians, including Mayor Daley. The Tribune noted that Daley "has spent more than a decade building a strong base of support among Chicago clergy, to bring out an enthusiastic congregation of rabbis, ministers, priests and interfaith activists on short notice."

  • Jewish organizations, many of which have traditionally supported a secularist political agenda and are at odds with much of Lieberman's stand on cultural issues, urged the Democratic candidate to apply the brakes to his rampant religious posturing. Today's campaign news on the major networks led with a statement from the Anti-Defamation League which called upon lieberman "to refrain from overt expressions of religious values and beliefs," adding that "appealing to voters along religious lines is contrary to the American ideal.

    Howard Berkowitz, ADL national chairman joined with the group's director, Abraham Fox, in releasing a public statement titled: "ADL to Senator Lieberman: Keep emphasis on religion out of campaign."

    "Candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters," said that ADL broadside. "At the same time, however, we believe there is a point at which an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours."

    The release specifically cautioned against Lieberman's remarks made on Sunday at Detroit's Fellowship Chapel gathering. "Language such as this risks alienating the American people. We feel very strongly ... that appealing along religious liens, or belief in God, is contrary to the American idea. The First Amendment requires that government neither support one religion over another nor the religious over the non-religious..."

  • Not to be upstaged, Republicans continued their appeal to religion and support for "faith-based partnerships" between church and state. GOP Vice Presidential candidate Dick Cheney was in Kansas City, Mo. ostensibly promoting education during a gathering of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Associated Press noted: "Cheney, asked about whether it was appropriate to mix religious and campaign themes, said the Republicans were simply emphasizing faith-based organization that do good community work."

    As if he had borrowed Joe Lieberman's speech writer, Cheney gushed about the importance of teaching tolerance "as Christ taught," but then denied that he was attempting to "strike any religious themes."

    Applauding Cheney's appearance at the Fellowship meeting was Kevin Harland, the group's executive vice president. "For us, it's a clear recognition of the impact that we are having," Harland told the Kansas City Star newspaper. "I think he (Cheney) sees FCA as a key faith-based organization for instilling character in the lives of students."

    Also pleased was another Fellowship official who gushed, "We have national marketing reps, but what happened today -- we could not pay for that kind of exposure. God has really smiled on us, to allow this to happen."

    Cheney was introduced by Kansas City Royals first baseman Mike Sweeny, who came close to endorsing the ticket when he announced his hope that Bush and Cheney would lead the country "not only politically, but in a spiritual way." He presented the former congressman with a Fellowship of Christian Athletes T-shirt. Cheney used his time at the podium to target the Democratic administration for not support "school choice" and voucher schemes.

    Dr. Dale Neuman, professor of political science at the University of Missouri, said that Cheney's campaign visit was "well-chosen," and would "help reestablish coverage among the conservative right and show the Republican party as the party of Christian values."

  • George W. Bush showed up at the annual convention of the B'nai B'rith International in Washington on Monday, and told the crowd: "Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world of justice and inclusion and diversity without division. Sen. Lieberman's wife, Hadassah, spoke to the group during today's session and while skirting the issue of the ADL statement, said that the Democratic ticket was committed to "the betterment of the world."

    There appears to be a split between the B'nai B'rith and the more politically conscious ADL. AP reported that according to its executive vice president, B'nai B'rith "disagrees with the ADL" over the issue of Lieberman's florid use of religious rhetoric on the campaign trail. A delegate added that "Religion is where he (Lieberman) is coming from. This is who he is."

For further information:

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

http://www.atheists.org/flash.line/elec16.htm ("Lieberman blames national woes on freedom from religion")

August 28, 2000

Aug. 28, 2000



American Atheists, a nationwide civil rights and state-church separation group, expressed concerns today over statements by Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman about the role of religion and government, and his efforts to "reassure" nonbelievers.

During a campaign appearance Sunday in Detroit, Mr. Lieberman suggested that the nation had lost its moral compass because the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion has been confused to mean "freedom from religion." Mr. Lieberman also told his church audience that people of faith must "reassure" nonbelievers that "we share with them the core values of America, that our faith is not inconsistent with their freedom and our mission is not one of intolerance, but one of love."

Ellen Johnson, President of American Atheists was skeptical.

"The campaign rhetoric about love is fine, but I'd settle for just a promise to stay away from my pocketbook," said Ms. Johnson, referring to Mr. Lieberman's support for "faith-based partnerships" between government and religion. "Both major parties support schemes like 'charitable choice' and other programs which will result in the largest wealth transfer in American history between the public treasury and the coffers of sectarian religious groups."

Ms. Johnson also said that Mr. Lieberman "is using a dangerous campaign strategy in adopting the rhetoric, and in some cases the programs, of the religious right."

"The Constitution happens to guarantee us the freedom of the Establishment Clause, which calls for the separation -- not the incorporation -- of church and state," Ms. Johnson said. "It's meant to prevent some of the very abuses Mr. Lieberman is suggesting, including his 'moment of silence' in public schools or what amounts to a tax on all Americans to support faith-based social, educational, and recruitment programs," added Ms. Johnson.

"Neither of the major political candidates is trying very much to explain how they will defend and support any portion of the First Amendment," declared Ron Barrier, National Spokesperson for American Atheists. "Mr. Lieberman's remarks are particularly shocking since he comes from a religion that has suffered centuries of oppression. His comments about nonbelievers are equally oppressive and offensive. He implies that the 10% or more of Americans who have no religious interests are somehow less American, have questionable values, and are second-class citizens. As Americans, we do have the right not to worship without sacrificing our status as taxpaying, law-abiding citizens. We do vote and take our civic duties seriously, Mr. Lieberman."

"We believe that the separation of church and state is more than just a slogan," added Mr. Barrier. "Mr. Lieberman's 'assurances' about the role of religion and politics ring hollow considering his hostility toward rational thinking Americans."

American Atheists, Inc.
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** AANEWS is a free service from American Atheists, a nationwide movement founded by Madalyn Murray O'Hair for the advancement of Atheism, and the total, absolute separation of government and religion.

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