- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2000

DETROIT (AP) Mixing his religion with politics as never before, vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman yesterday told members of a black church that he hopes his candidacy as an Orthodox Jew will reinstate "a place for faith in America's public life."

By the time Mr. Lieberman left some 500 congregants of the Fellowship Chapel, he had been feted as a civil-rights freedom fighter, sheathed in African kente cloth as if he were one of their own, and embraced as a man of faith never mind from a different faith.

"As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes," said Mr. Lieberman, the first Jew to run for national office on a major party ticket.

"Let us break through some of the inhibitions that have existed to talk together across the flimsy lines of separation of faith, to talk together, to study together, to pray together, and ultimately to sing together His holy name," Mr. Lieberman told Fellowship Chapel, affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

In his recent book, "In Praise of Public Life," Mr. Lieberman wrote that he sees religion as a way to rebuild "what has come to feel like a crumbling moral framework in the life of our nation," but he had never before campaigned on the issue.

Speaking from the pulpit in a speech littered with biblical references, Mr. Lieberman said the nation has lost its moral foundation in part because the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion has been confused to mean "freedom from religion."

He said he hoped his candidacy would change that.

"I hope it will enable people, all people who are moved, to talk about their faith and about their religion, and I hope that it will reinforce a belief that I feel as strongly as anything else, that there must be a place for faith in America's public life," he said.

He made no mention of the effects on the nation of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky. Instead, he celebrated the strong economy, more jobs, and low crime rate as accomplishments of Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore over the last eight years. He likened them to Moses.

"In some sense, you might say the Red Sea finally parted and more Americans than ever before walked through behind President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore," Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Lieberman, who supports a moment of silence in public schools, though not necessarily a moment of prayer, also gave a nod to nonbelievers. He said people of faith must "reassure them 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."

Before Mr. Lieberman took to the pulpit, the Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of the chapel and president of the largest chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the country, recalled for worshippers how Mr. Lieberman in the 1960s had marched on Washington with Martin Luther King and went into Mississippi to register black voters. And he criticized Republican rivals George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney in the process.

"It does mean something," said Mr. Anthony, shouting in a lyrical cadence, "for I ain't read nothing about no Bushes in Mississippi… . I ain't seen no Cheneys on no freedom buses."

In a poke at Michigan's governor, Mr. Anthony added, "John Engler ain't pass out no voter registration cards."

Later, Mr. Lieberman recalled how he had spoken at a civil rights rally in Bridgeport, Conn., in the 1960s just before Mr. King, and that the civil-rights leader had remarked, "very good, young man."

"I had actually thought I heard the voice of Moses," Mr. Lieberman said.

Nurse Renee Walls, 44, a member of the church, said she didn't care that Mr. Lieberman was of a different faith. "He spoke from the heart. It doesn't matter what the religion is. It's about unity," she said.

Later, Mr. Lieberman spoke to about 1,300 people at a campaign rally in Southfield, Mich., and he met with about two dozen members of the local Arab-American community. Abed Hammoud, president of the Arab American Political Action Committee, said afterward that he felt reassured that Mr. Lieberman's religion will not cloud his judgment about Middle East peace but said he believes Mr. Lieberman must state that more publicly.

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