Religious Rhetoric Sparks Debate in Campaign 2000

Church & State, October 2000 | Go to article overview

Religious Rhetoric Sparks Debate in Campaign 2000


Debate over the use of religious rhetoric in politics has erupted again in campaign 2000.

In late August, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman sparked controversy when he called for a greater role for religion in American public life. Speaking before a United Church of Christ congregation in Detroit Aug. 26, Lieberman remarked, "As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and to God's purposes." He also asserted that the Constitution "guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

A few days later at a prayer breakfast, Lieberman returned to religious themes, telling an audience in Chicago, "This is the most religious country in the world and sometimes we try to ... hide it.... [W]e are also children of the same awesome God."

Lieberman even found a way to tie his religious beliefs to the Democrats' public policy initiatives, asking attendees at the prayer breakfast, "Isn't Medicare coverage of prescription drugs really about the values of the Fifth Commandment -- honor your father and mother?"

On Aug. 28, the Anti-Defamation League, one of the largest Jewish organizations in the country, called on Lieberman, the first Jew to seek the vice presidency on a major ticket, to back off. In a letter to the Connecticut senator, ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman asserted that while candidates should feel comfortable talking about their faith in public, at some point "an emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours."

Two days later Americans United expressed concern as well. In a letter to Lieberman, AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn wrote, "This style of campaigning is unhealthy to our democratic process. Americans do not need political leaders insisting that we `reaffirm our faith,' and your insistence that they do so was terribly inappropriate."

Continued Lynn, "The very purpose of a political campaign is to offer voters the opportunity to consider candidates' stands on the important issues of the day. Ours is a democracy, not a theocracy. We are electing secular political leaders to run a government, not religious leaders to manage a house of worship. …

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