Tuesday August 29 2:44 PM ET Lieberman Scolded for 'Inappropriate' Use of Faith
By Grant McCool
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A leading Jewish group has asked Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the first Jew to run on the national ticket of a major party, to stop emphasizing his faith on the campaign trail, calling it ''inappropriate.''
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913 to fight anti-Jewish sentiments and other forms of bigotry, said Lieberman was merely the latest candidate in the Nov. 7 election who was ``flaunting'' his religion.
In a letter to Lieberman on Monday, the group singled out his remarks at a Detroit church on Sunday in which he called for a greater role for religion in American life.
But in an interview Tuesday, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman also cited Republican presidential candidate Texas Gov. George W. Bush (news - web sites) and the Democratic candidate, Vice President Al Gore (news - web sites), for inappropriately invoking faith in their campaigns.
``It began with Gov. Bush, Vice President Gore and now Senator Lieberman and there is the inclusion in the political process of almost 'vote for me because I believe in God,''' Foxman said. ``This country was established not on freedom of the press, it was established on freedom of religion.''
In December, Bush identified Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher during a debate with his Republican primary opponents. In addition, Gore described himself as a ``born-again Christian'' on the CBS News program ``60 Minutes.''
After those remarks, the ADL sent similar letters to all of the eight candidates seeking the party nominations for president about its concerns on maintaining the separation of church and state.
In its letter to Connecticut Senator Lieberman on Monday, the organization urged him ``to keep in mind that public profession of religious beliefs should not be an elemental part of this or any other political campaign.''
Lieberman Record Respects Separation
Foxman said Lieberman campaign officials responded by saying that the Senator had a clear record of respecting separation of church and state and religious tolerance.
The Senator had not responded publicly and a campaign spokeswoman was not available to comment.
Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, told the Detroit Fellowship Chapel congregation: ``As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purpose.''
The letter signed by Foxman and ADL National Chairman Howard Berkowitz said, ``Candidates should feel comfortable explaining their religious convictions to voters. At the same time, however, we believe there is a point at which the emphasis on religion in a political campaign becomes inappropriate and even unsettling in a religiously diverse society such as ours.''
Advocacy groups for Roman Catholics and Muslims said they were encouraged by Lieberman's emphasis on faith and disagreed with the ADL's position.
Catholic League President William Donahue said, ``We stand with Senator Lieberman on this issue. It's called freedom of speech.''
However, Donahue added, ``What we do have a problem with, which apparently ADL doesn't, is the venue. They (political candidates) shouldn't be talking about religion and politics from a church.''
He said ``Republicans and Democrats alike are guilty of campaigning in Protestant churches and synagogues...its time for ministers and rabbis to follow the lead of Catholic priests by not extending invitations to speak from the pulpit.''
A spokesman for the Muslim advocacy group Council on American-Islamic Relations said Muslims would be more concerned about Lieberman's position on issues such as whether he supports the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv and civil liberties of Muslims in the United States.
``In general, we appreciate a political candidate showing a moral and spiritual foundation so we have no particular problem with any candidate who bases their decision-making on spiritual and moral values,'' spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said.