Lieberman puts faith in politics

Monday, August 28th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

DETROIT – Mixing his religion with politics as never before, vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman on Sunday told members of a black church that he hopes his candidacy as an Orthodox Jew will reinstate "a place for faith in America's public life."

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By the time Mr. Lieberman left some 500 congregants of the Fellowship Chapel, he had been feted as a civil-rights freedom fighter, sheathed in African kente cloth and embraced as a man of faith – never mind from a different faith.

"As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes," said Mr. Lieberman, the first Jew to run for national office on a major party ticket.

"Let us break through some of the inhibitions that have existed to talk together across the flimsy lines of separation of faith, to talk together, to study together, to pray together, and ultimately to sing together his holy name," Mr. Lieberman told Fellowship Chapel, affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

In his recent book, In Praise of Public Life, Mr. Lieberman wrote that he sees religion as a way to rebuild "what has come to feel like a crumbling moral framework in the life of our nation," but he had never before campaigned on the issue.

Speaking from the pulpit in a speech filled with biblical references, Mr. Lieberman said the nation has lost its moral foundation in part because the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion has been confused to mean "freedom from religion."

He said he hoped his candidacy would change that.

"I hope it will enable people, all people who are moved, to talk about their faith and about their religion, and I hope that it will reinforce a belief that I feel as strongly as anything else, that there must be a place for faith in America's public life," he said.

He made no mention of the effects of President Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky on the nation. Instead, he celebrated the strong economy, more jobs, and low crime rate as accomplishments of Mr. Clinton and Vice President Al Gore over the last eight years.

"In some sense, you might say the Red Sea finally parted and more Americans than ever before walked through behind President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore," Mr. Lieberman said.

Mr. Lieberman, who supports a moment of silence in public schools, though not necessarily a moment of prayer, also gave a nod to nonbelievers. He said people of faith must "reassure them that we share with them the core values of America, that our faith is not inconsistent with their freedom and our mission is not one of intolerance, but one of love."

Later, Mr. Lieberman spoke to about 1,300 people at a campaign rally in Southfield, Mich., and he met with about two dozen members of the local Arab-American community. Abed Hammoud, president of the Arab American Political Action Committee, said afterward he felt reassured that Mr. Lieberman's religion would not cloud his judgment about Middle East peace but said Mr. Lieberman should state that more publicly.