NEWS SIDEBAR: Scholar: How Lieberman’s Faith Shapes Policy Is Unclear

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c. 2000 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Democratic vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman’s frequent references to faith are unusual for a modern political campaign, but they remain so vague that it’s not clear how his beliefs shape his stands on specific issues, a scholar on religion and politics said recently.

In that sense, then, the public commentary surrounding Lieberman’s “God-talk” is so far much ado about relatively little, although that may change as the campaign rolls on, said Mark Silk, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Lieberman’s references to the Bible at nearly every campaign appearance, his call for “a constitutional place for faith in our public life” and his recent campaign declaration that Americans “are children of an awesome God” are remarkable for a modern presidential campaign _ and doubly so coming from a Democrat, Silk said.

Yet Lieberman’s observations so far have fallen well within most Americans’ traditional conception of a generic “civil religion” _ a rather vague creed encompassing belief in God and values such as brotherhood and charity, Silk said.

Even so, they have prompted renewed discussion on the relationship between faith and politics and stirred discomfort in some circles. Last month, the Anti-Defamation League, a group that fights anti-Semitism and racism, publicly asked Lieberman to stop making “overt expressions” of religious belief in his campaign because “it is contrary to the American ideal.”

“Language such as this risks alienating the American people,” the group said in a statement signed by Abraham Foxman and Howard Berkowitz, the group’s director and chairman, respectively.

But only rarely has Lieberman linked his faith to specific campaign issues, as in his relating Medicare coverage of prescription drugs to “the values of the Fifth Commandment _ honor your father and mother.”

How faith shapes Lieberman’s views on a full range of other issues is generally still unexplored, Silk said. Those include using faith-based organizations to help drug addicts and train the unemployed, which Republican candidate George W. Bush favors and the Gore campaign mostly opposes.

Silk also questioned how faith influences Democrats’ opposition to education vouchers for public school parents, or “tough questions about whether (landlords’) individual attitudes should trump fair housing laws” on matters like renting to unmarried couples.

“If Lieberman tones it down a bit and this turns into a mere two-day story, then we won’t have had the discussion about religion in society we ought to have had,” he said.

“Because there are real issues out there he can talk about in terms of his faith, and they’re not simple; they’re tough.”


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