We have a great irony at center stage in America, the narrative of which is: Joseph Lieberman believes not only his faith, but believes that "there must be a place for faith in America's public life." And this wasn't just Sunday talk. Joe Lieberman is a U.S. senator and is running for vice president of the United States. Now add this: He is not -- a Christian! So what do you say about a Jewish figure who, if language means anything at all, is saying to an audience mostly non-Jewish (90 percent of Americans are Christian) that religion needs to take a more assertive position in public life?
Well, what you do if you are the Anti-Defamation League is slit your throat. Here is the granddaddy of tolerance organizations, specifically organized to expose and protest anti-Jewish thinking and scheming, and what does it run into? A public figure calling for an expanded role for religion in public life -- but the s.o.b. is a Jew! If he were Pat Robertson or one of those people, the tocsin might have sounded, alerting the community at large to the inchoate anti-Jewish intimations of this call for religious affirmation. What do we do now?
One has to assume that the ADL's Abraham Foxman picked up the telephone and said grittily, "Get me Ira Glasser." Mr. Glasser is the eloquent and ubiquitous boss of the American Civil Liberties Union, among whose ambitions is to reduce the practice of religion to private conversations between you and your minister.
What would the ACLU recommend at this turn of events? Mr. Glasser can be depended on to harness the entire weight of the ACLU to a rebuke of Sen. Lieberman, and indeed this is what happened. The ADL fired one on Monday: "We do not think that religion belongs in the political campaign and the political arena," Mr. Foxman said. "There's nothing wrong with somebody professing their faith and going to church or synagogue, but this is almost hawking it."
Well, that is certainly true. To have a candidate for vice president affirm the need for religion in public life is certainly to hawk religion, using almost identically the language used by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and other -- non-Jews. That the same sentiments should be composed and uttered by a Jewish candidate is a triumphant expression of genuine religious freedom.