- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2000

The Democratic presidential ticket has made back-to-back speeches at major Catholic universities, capped yesterday by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's University of Notre Dame address on expanding religion in public life.

"Al Gore and I want to bring truth to power the truth of faith and the values that flow from it," Mr. Lieberman told an audience of 600 at the South Bend, Ind., campus.

"We cannot cure our moral ailments from Washington," said the vice-presidential candidate. "But we can exert leadership from our public pulpits."

He said that such political exhortation could "help transform" American interest in religion into a "great awakening" of faith.

On Monday, Mr. Gore gave a stump speech at the Jesuit Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., marked mostly by a pep rally atmosphere led by the school basketball coach and cheerleaders.

Mr. Gore did not mention Catholic themes except to note that John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, won in 1960 by a margin of one vote per precinct. "Can you get me one more vote in your precinct?" Mr. Gore asked.

The throng of 5,000 was organized by Democratic state officials, who also filled the platform. The school said yesterday the event was a Democratic Party project using the university facility, but others said it muddled partisan politics with a Catholic institution.

"It took on more the cast that we were sponsoring [the Gore ticket]," said a Gonzaga staff member, who wished the event had appeared more neutral.

The Lieberman speech at Notre Dame was a marked departure from the "social justice" themes of New York Gov. Mario Cuomo in 1984 and Bill Clinton in 1992.

"The line between church and state is an important one and has always been hard for us to draw, but in recent years we have gone far beyond what the Framers [of the Constitution] ever imagined in separating the two," Mr. Lieberman said.

He said his campaign talk about religion has produced a "wave of anxiety and apprehension" and criticism.

"But my resolve has only been strengthened," he said.

"We have practically banished religious values and religious institutions from the public square and constructed a 'discomfort zone' for even discussing our faith in public settings," he said.

David Leege, a political science professor at the university, said the Lieberman speech "turned a new corner" by addressing Catholics as part of the general religious population, not a sectarian faith.

"He could have been speaking to a group [of Protestants] at Calvin College as well as Catholics at Notre Dame," Mr. Leege said.

Though Mr. Lieberman ended with brief remarks about medicine for the elderly, Social Security and a clean environment, he mainly talked about cultural deterioration.

"It was reminiscent of the 'cultural conflict' theme of previous campaigns," Mr. Leege said, citing Republican conservatives' "cultural wars" and Pat Buchanan's fiery 1992 speech about a "religious war."

With Mr. Lieberman, however, the theme "wasn't used in the way the cultural warriors used it," Mr. Leege said.

The senator, an Orthodox Jew, said that while secular nonbelievers must be respected, the loss of public religious expression had left a moral vacuum and produced entertainment rife with sex and violence.

"I will soon be sending a letter to [entertainment] industry leaders to reiterate our challenge and our determination to act if they will not," he said.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush has been invited to speak at Notre Dame. His campaign has not yet stumped at a major Catholic setting, but "as the days dwindle, so do the expectations [that he will speak]," said Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Moore.

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