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Religion and presidential politics

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Perhaps the most encouraging development in the 2000 presidential campaign so far has been the introduction of religion, and its role in public life, as a topic for serious discussion.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic candidate for vice president, spent last weekend making a thoughtful and impassioned plea for Americans to recommit to religious values and principles in everyday life. "We know that the Constitution wisely separates church from state," the Los Angeles Times quotes him as saying. "But remember, the Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion."

Republic presidential candidate George W. Bush has been vocal on the subject, as well. The Associated Press quoted him as telling a gathering of Jews belonging to B'nai B'rith, "Our nation is chosen by God and commissioned by history to be a model to the world of justice and inclusion and diversity without division. Jews and Christians and Muslims speak as one in their commitment to a kind, just, tolerant society."

Frankly, all this talk is refreshing. For far too long it has seemed politically correct to treat religious conviction as something on the fringes of American society — as if the only virtue was tolerance, of everything and anything, without the correlating responsibility to stand up for what is right and decent.

Skeptics will say all this talk is borne of political necessity. The United States, despite what popular culture would indicate, still is a nation of church-going people of faith, and the best way to win votes is to show a healthy respect for that fact.

First of all, there is plenty of evidence to indicate that both Lieberman and Bush have long held religious convictions that govern their actions.

For example, two years ago Lieberman gave a rousing Senate speech in which he said, "The pendulum has swung so far, and we have become so wary of being labeled intolerant, that we are increasingly unwilling and in some cases incapable of making moral judgments. This is evident in the evolution of public attitudes about family, where we have gone from stigmatizing adultery, divorce and particularly out-of-wedlock childbirth, to normalizing these behaviors, with little apparent consideration given to the damage these 'choices' can do to children individually or to our society collectively."

Secondly, so what if all the talk is politically driven? Critics certainly may take issue with positions either ticket may have in relation to the moral principles they espouse, but the mere discussion of these principles is important, particularly if it also reveals — plainly and articulately — the price society is paying for immorality.