Americans United for Separation of Church and State wrote to Sen. Joseph Lieberman today, urging the vice presidential candidate to reduce his use of religious campaign rhetoric.
In recent days, Lieberman has actively been emphasizing his personal faith in campaign speeches throughout the Midwest. At a stop in Detroit, Lieberman told audiences, "As a people, we need to reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God's purposes." He added that he believes the First Amendment "guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."
In Chicago, Lieberman went on to compare the Democrats' prescription drug plan to the Fifth Commandment because, as he explained, it "honors thy mother and father."
"Religion is taking on a progressively larger role during this campaign and candidates' personal faith is being presented to the public with increasing regularity," the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, told Lieberman. "I am writing to you today in the hopes that you can help lead political discourse in a different, more beneficial, direction."
Lieberman surprised many when he gave his first speech as Vice President Al Gore's running mate in Nashville earlier this month. In that speech, Lieberman began his remarks with a prayer and a recitation from the Book of Chronicles.
"Presenting yourself to the nation as a religious man is both understandable and expected," Lynn told Lieberman. "While some were immediately critical, I suggested a more cautious approach. However, it appears that what began as an introduction to the nation has unfortunately become standard campaign rhetoric."
Lynn also noted that Lieberman told a Chicago audience that he hopes religion is "irrelevant" to voters on Election Day.
"I share that same hope," Lynn said. "However, as you add more religious rhetoric to the campaign, you make it nearly impossible for voters to ignore religious matters before going to the ballot box."
Lynn explained to Lieberman that political use of religion could have serious and lasting consequences for the nation.
"By blurring the line between the spiritual and the secular, and between the pious and the political, I fear that you may be contributing to a climate that does irreparable harm," Lynn said. "When religion is used repeatedly in the context of a presidential campaign, faith then becomes a political tool. Manipulation of religion in this fashion not only does damage to the political process, it cheapens and exploits religion for partisan ends.
"I know you to be a sincere man who holds religion in the highest regard," Lynn concluded. "But before the religious rhetoric in this campaign spins dangerously out of control, I urge you to accept the fact that enough is enough. Please take the lead on refocusing this campaign onto the issues and controversies that shape our political landscape. Ask voters to consider your candidacy and that of your running mate because of your record, not your faith."
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.