God and Democrats

by Bill McGurn

“We are still arguably the most religiously observant people on earth, and share a near universal belief in God. But you wouldn’t know it from national public life today. The line between church and state is an important one and has always been hard for us to draw, but in recent years we have gone far beyond what the Framers ever imagined in separating the two. So much so that we have practically banished religious values and religious institutions from the public square and constructed a “discomfort zone” for even discussing our faith in public settings?ironically making religion one of the few remaining socially acceptable targets of intolerance." p. -Sen. Joseph Lieberman
The University of Notre Dame
p. These are powerful words, delivered by an Orthodox Jew at a Catholic campus in the thick of a close American Presidential election. None of this is by accident: Not Senator Lieberman’s selection as Al Gore’s Vice-Presidential nominee, not the choice of Notre Dame for an address on faith and values, not the timing, just two weeks before Election Day. And the result was one of the most cogent public summaries of the ongoing dynamic between the religious faith of Americans and the American proposition.p. But it also underscores an important corollary: the glaring double standard. We all know why the Democrats needed to put their party’s leading public critic of Bill Clinton on their 2000 ticket. Partly it’s because these are words we rarely hear from that party today. Presented with Lieberman’s text, most Americans might guess they came from Bill Bennett, Pat Robertson or Gary Bauer.p. But had any of these other gentlemen uttered Mr. Lieberman’s words they would be treated as a bugle call for a hellfire of secular criticism. Recall that “religious right” is a term of derision, used to describe the conclusion of millions of ordinary Americans that many major institutions of their country — Hollywood, the federal government, the schools, the press — were beginning to see their normative religious beliefs as the enemy.p. Years ago the Washington Post characterized these people as “poor, uneducated and easily led.” But lots of other Americans not so easily slurred have come to Senator Lieberman’s conclusion; witness a U.S. Chief Justice complaining about a court whose opinion “bristles with hostility to all things religious in public life.”p. At Notre Dame yesterday Senator Lieberman reminded us “that the Constitution promises freedom of religion, not from religion.” Now, no party has a monopoly on God or morals. And there are good people on both sides of the political divide, not to mention the good people who are not believers. But what Senator Lieberman did not say at Notre Dame, what he could not say, is that there is only one party where this most virulent form of secular orthodoxy has found a home. That is in his own Democratic Party.p. Indeed, it tells you something that Senator Lieberman had to go to South Bend to be guaranteed an audience that would cheer a speech so positive about religion in American life. Had he dared give that same speech at, say, the Democratic Party convention in Los Angeles — where delegates actually booed the Boy Scouts —it might have been a different story. “Devout men and women,” he says, “can and do have disagreements over difficult moral questions.” He’s right. They’re just not allowed to have them in the public forums of the Democratic Party.p. Whatever the personal, religious beliefs of individual Democrats, this is the party whose chief allies have so much trouble with the Boy Scouts, who can’t see a creche on a town square without phoning the ACLU to sue, who won’t let an inner-city African American out of a failing public school if the alternative is someplace with a cross on its wall.p. Clearly Mr. Lieberman was at home at Notre Dame. And we’d like to think that his speech signals the end of the attacks on the millions of Americans, mostly Christian evangelicals, who believe exactly the same thing as Senator Lieberman, but receive an entirely different reception when they say so. But that would be an act of faith.p. October 25, 2000

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