- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 29, 2000

The Anti-Defamation League, the most aggressive organization combating anti-Semitism, yesterday demanded that Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, stop calling attention to his faith in his quest for the vice presidency.
In a highly unusual and tersely worded statement, the arm of B'nai B'rith called on the Connecticut senator to "refrain from overt expressions of religious values and beliefs" in his role as Vice President Al Gore's running mate.
"We feel very strongly, and we hope you would agree, that appealing along religious lines, or belief in God, is contrary to the American ideal," said Howard P. Berkowitz, ADL national chairman, and National Director Abraham H. Foxman, in the statement. "The First Amendment requires that government neither support one religion over another, nor the religious over the non-religious."
Mr. Lieberman has mentioned his faith frequently, most recently in Chicago in appearances before black audiences. Liberals who have criticized Republicans for mentioning God in public discourse have refrained from criticizing the senator, expressing confidence that his expressions of faith would soon recede.
But Mr. Lieberman has shown no signs of curbing his inclination to talk about faith, his own and others', usually in a manner familiar to evangelical Christians. Yesterday, he told a group of religious leaders that "religion is a source of unity and strength in America."
"This is the most religious country in the world, and sometimes we try to stifle that fact or hide it," he told an interfaith breakfast of 150 leaders in Chicago. "But the profound and ultimately, most important reality is that we are not only citizens of this blessed country, we are citizens of the same awesome God."
The day before, touching on the separation of church and state, Mr. Lieberman told a Sunday morning worship service in a black church in Detroit that he wants his candidacy as an Orthodox Jew to reinstate "a place for faith in America's public life."
"As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes," he said to a congregation of 500 at the Fellowship Chapel.
This drew a rebuke from the ADL leaders. "Language such as this risks alienating the American people," Mr. Berkowitz and Mr. Foxman said of Mr. Lieberman's Detroit remarks.
"Candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters," they said. "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 flap puts the Gore-Lieberman ticket at odds with B'nai B'rith, the world's oldest and largest Jewish service organization. Gore campaign officials who have emphasized Mr. Lieberman's appeal to religious voters now find themselves in the awkward position of feuding with the powerful Jewish group.
"We respectfully disagree with the Anti-Defamation League's statement today," Lieberman spokeswoman Kiki McLean told The Washington Times. "In his remarks to the Detroit Fellowship Chapel, Senator Lieberman made it clear he believes that welcoming people of faith into public life is not about excluding anyone or imposing religious views on non-believers.
"Rather, he said: Let us reach out together to those who may neither believe nor observe and reassure them that we share with them the core values of America, that our faith is not inconsistent with their freedom, and that our mission is not one of intolerance, but one of love."
When Mr. Gore and Mr. Lieberman began stressing religion, liberal advocacy groups conceded that they hold to a double standard in judging religious talk. They argued that because Republicans preach what they call an exclusionary faith and the doctrine of Democrats is "all-inclusive," such a double standard is legitimate.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush was lashed by several groups last year for citing Jesus Christ as the most important influence in his life. "When Republicans talk about their faith, most know what that talk means," Mark Pelavin, associate director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said last month. "That's not as true for Democrats. The Christian right and the Christian Coalition have a policy agenda to change the Republican Party."
But until yesterday there was almost no criticism of Mr. Lieberman's religious talk because many conservatives welcome such expressions of faith, whether by Christian or Jew, in public life.
At his stop in Chicago, Mr. Lieberman met with pastors, priests and rabbis at the South Shore Cultural Center, a former country club that banned blacks and Jews. In greeting the group, he quoted a line from a Hebrew hymn, "Hine Ma Tov," that calls for "brothers and sisters to dwell together in harmony."
Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who accompanied Mr. Lieberman around the city yesterday, acknowledged the power of prayer in politics.
"We know there's a separation of church and state in America, 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."
Earlier in the day, Mr. Lieberman told Democratic activists he's "not asking anybody to vote for me because of my religion."
"Hopefully, on Election Day that will be an irrelevant factor, as I think it is today for most Americans. And Al Gore and I offer ourselves to America as the team that's best for America on the merits."
Mr. Lieberman, who supports a moment of silence in public schools, though not necessarily a moment of prayer, was to speak Sunday about health care, but the issue barely came up. He focused almost exclusively on morality and faith.
Speaking from the pulpit, Mr. Lieberman sprinkled his speech with biblical references from the Old Testament and received four standing ovations.
He said the nation had lost its moral foundation in part because the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion has been confused to mean "freedom from religion." He wants his candidacy will change that.
Mr. Lieberman the harshest Senate Democratic critic of President Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky did not mention the effects of that sexual liaison.
Instead, he celebrated the strong economy, more jobs and low crime rate as accomplishments of Mr. Clinton and Mr. 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."
This article is based in part on wire service reports.



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