- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000


In the course of making his religious faith a test of Americanism and his qualifications for the vice presidency, Sen. Joseph Lieberman excludes me, a Jewish atheist, even though I have worked with such Christian legal groups as the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in support of the First Amendment's guarantee of the "free exercise of religion."
But Mr. Lieberman tells me that the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion not freedom from religion. This senator is a graduate of Yale Law School? Justice Robert Jackson of the United States Supreme Court said it plainly:
"The day this country ceases to be free for irreligion, it will cease to be free for religion except for the sect that can win political power."
And, Mr. Lieberman, Article VI of the very Constitution that you invoke also says clearly that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
The senator approvingly quotes John Adams, our second president, as stating that our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. Mr. Lieberman then brings George Washington into his campaign with a quote from the first president that morality cannot be maintained without religion.
According to Mr. Lieberman, therefore, I am at best a second-class citizen under the Constitution as well as being immoral, or, at worst, un-American.
However, Thomas Jefferson in his historic and seminal Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom emphasized the separation of church from state, thereby freeing all Americans to support any religion or none. James Madison, who wrote the First Amendment, thoroughly agreed, and persuaded the Virginia legislature to pass it.
And Justice Jackson gave the classic definition of Americanism under the Constitution in his majority decision in West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette:
"One's right to life, liberty and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote. They depend on the outcome of no elections."
Moreover, our fundamental rights, including freedom from religion, do not depend on a politician's attempt to exclude those Americans who do not fit his definition of Americanism and morality. An illustration of the ignorance of American constitutional history in the media was the way Fox-TV's news expert Bill O'Reilly cheered Mr. Lieberman while showing no knowledge that God is not mentioned in the Constitution and by ignoring Jefferson's and Madison's views.
I commend to the education of Mr. Lieberman and to Al Gore, who says he fully supports this move to turn America into a theocracy Justice Jackson's definition of our common liberty of conscience:
"If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion."
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, has performed a national service by reminding Mr. Lieberman that making political appeals along religious lines is contrary to the American ideal. Mr. Foxman has written similar educational letters to Mr. Gore and George W. Bush, who have been campaigning as if God and Jesus were on their tickets. They keep invoking their particular born-again Christianity, which is not the faith of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and indeed other adherents of Christianity itself. My faith is the Constitution.
As for Mr. Lieberman, columnist Lars-Erick Nelson makes the cautionary point that Mr. Lieberman says, of course, that he will respect the rights of nonbelievers. But he makes clear that he regards them as moral inferiors, if not second-class citizens just as some countries once regarded Jews. And just as a good many Americans still regard Jews.
But Mr. Lieberman, oblivious to the divisiveness of imposing his code of Americanism and morality, insists that religion is a source of unity and strength in America.
As Rabbi Bernhard Rosenberg wrote in a letter in the Aug. 30 New York Times: "The wearing of one's religion on one's sleeve creates a dangerous precedent and undermines the separation of church and state. One religion will be turned against another, with candidates exploiting their own personal religious convictions."
This is not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.

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