- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

Liberal advocacy groups Thursday conceded a double standard on religion in the presidential campaign, but argue that it's legitimate because Republicans preach an exclusionary faith and the doctrine of Democrats is "all-inclusive".
Texas Gov. George W. Bush was lashed by several groups last year for naming Jesus Christ as the most important philosopher to him. Few have criticized Al Gore and running mate Joseph I. Lieberman, the first Jewish vice-presidential candidate, for the stream of passionate religious rhetoric that has enveloped their fledgling campaign.
"American Jews would have a knee-jerk reaction to Republicans' expression of faith, but not to the other side," says David Harris, deputy executive director for the National Jewish Democratic Council.
The Republican presidential candidate has crossed the line, Mr. Harris said, by giving the government imprimatur to his faith by his recent proclamation declaring June 10 as "Jesus Day" in Texas and his support for school prayer and the posting of the Old Testament's Ten Commandments, among other things.
"Bush's declarations have an air of exclusivity," Mr. Harris said. "But Gore and Lieberman appear all inclusive on faith, that all must be made to feel welcome."
Says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State: "There's a bit of a double standard, but Republicans have a long history of seeking votes on a religious basis."
People are more fearful when Mr. Bush talks religion because "he has a history of kowtowing to the religious right," he says.
"Lieberman doesn't have a history of talking about his faith. Republicans have tended to do more God-talking, embracing Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson."
Mark Pelavin, associate director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, says the double standard exists because Republicans also have a history of using religion for partisan and issue purposes.
When Republicans speak about adherence to biblical tenets, that is code for supporting school prayer and opposing abortion and homosexual rights, he says.
"When Republicans talk about their faith, most know what that talk means," Mr. Pelavin says. "That's not as true for Democrats. The Christian right and the Christian Coalition have a policy agenda to change the Republican Party.
"Lieberman's comments were a legitimate expression of who he is that did not exclude others, as Bush's did. One is an individual speaking and the other is an act of government."
Mr. Pelavin, as well as several others, say Mr. Bush's statement that Jesus Christ is the most influential political philosopher to him was followed by an egregious statement.
Asked to expand for viewers his answer in the September 1999 debate in Iowa that Jesus Christ "has changed my heart," Mr. Bush said, "Well, if they don't know, it's going to be hard to explain. When you turn your heart and your life over to Christ, when you accept Christ as a savior, it changes your heart and changes your life, and that's what happened to me."
Most point to that as evidence that his religious views are exclusionary, whereas Mr. Gore's and Mr. Lieberman's professions of faith are generic and inclusive.
"He ought to be able to explain why he picked Jesus," says Eliot Mincberg, vice president of People for the American Way. "We did not object to the fact that Bush mentioned Jesus, but the fact that that was the only person Bush referred to and he said he just couldn't explain it."
Mr. Mincberg said the double standard the argument that Republicans talking religion is dangerous but Democrats espousing faith is healthy and inclusive is "not a stereotype without justification."
"Many Republicans have supported the right to life and school prayer in the name of religion," he said. "When Republicans talk, people tend to hear that in an exclusionary way, and when Democrats talk, people tend to hear it in an inclusionary way."
Criticism was swift when Mr. Bush made his comment about Jesus Christ during the debate with other Republican candidates.
"It makes me uncomfortable," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said then. "It will make a lot of us uncomfortable."
The ADL director says that he respected Mr. Bush's right to espouse the religious beliefs of his choosing but that Mr. Bush's choice left out "Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus."
"I felt left out, and I think a lot of Americans felt left out," Mr. Foxman said. "It was a disconcerting inclusion of religion into politics."
Mr. Gore has played up the religion of his running mate. During a preconvention tour that began Wednesday in the vice president's hometown of Carthage, Tenn., both unabashedly invoked God and Scripture with a frequency and fervor not seen before.
It was the second day in a row that Mr. Lieberman spoke extensively about his faith. On Tuesday, during his first joint appearance with Mr. Gore since being selected, Mr. Lieberman opened his speech with a public prayer.
Thursday, Ken Jacobson, assistant national director for the ADL, would not criticize Mr. Lieberman for wrapping the Democratic campaign in religion, and there was no criticism that they were being exclusionary.
"There is a lot of interest in who he is," Mr. Jacobson said. "We're hoping this begins to fade."
After Mr. Bush's comment, Mr. Harris criticized his injection of religion into the presidential campaign, saying the governor's response "speaks volumes about the depths or lack of depths of his political philosophy."
Thursday, he said, "George W. Bush and Joe Lieberman are totally different. The problem is [Mr. Bush] deemed Jesus Christ his 'political' philosopher, which will be guiding his political policy."

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