The Launch of The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
National Press Club Washington, D.C.
Address by: Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT)
Representative Chet Edwards (D-TX)
Representative Mark Souder (R-IN)
Azizah Al-Hibri, Professor of Law, University of Richmond
David Brooks, Senior Editor, The Weekly Standard
David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism
Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social & Political Ethics, University of Chicago
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
MS. ROGERS: Good morning. Welcome to the project launch of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a new project supported by The Pew Charitable Trusts.
My name is Melissa Rogers and I am executive director of the Forum. And we’re very grateful that you have joined us today.
Critical issues are before us concerning the intersection of religion and public affairs. We believe that there is a need for a sustained discussion of these important issues. We also believe that there is a need for a place that welcomes a great diversity of perspectives on these matters to reflect the discussion accurately. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life seeks to be such a place.
Just as there is no one political response to religion in the public square, there is no one religious response to public issues of our day. Instead, there is a constellation of responses based on different theological, religious and political thought, just as there are important differences among those who feel different ways about how and when religion should participate in our public life.
The Forum intends to welcome these diverse views to the table of discussion. The Forum will operate as a clearinghouse of information and a town hall. We hope that you’ll turn to us for independent research, new polling data, balanced information and analysis, as well as referrals to experts in the field. We also seek to be a town hall, a place that will draw together many different perspectives for a fruitful exchange of ideas.
The Forum will not be an advocate lining up behind just one perspective presented at our events; instead, as our name indicates, we will be a true forum, a place for discussion and debate of these important issues.
The Forum is fortunate to have as its co-chairs two public intellectuals, who have made and continue to make their mark on this important field. E.J. Dionne is senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a columnist at the Washington Post. Jean Bethke Elshtain is a Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Political and Social Ethics at the University of Chicago. We greatly appreciate the partnership of Brookings and the University of Chicago in this project.
We are also grateful to Georgetown University and Judy Feder, the distinguished dean of Policy Studies at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute. The grant for the Forum is made through Georgetown University, and we are fortunate to have their leadership and partnership in this project.
The Forum is also most grateful to The Pew Charitable Trusts for its vision, dedication and support of this project.
Under the leadership of Rebecca Rimel, president and CEO of Pew, as well as Luis Lugo, Kimon Sargeant and so many others, Pew has truly been a trailblazer in this field. Pew has demonstrated an ability to see around corners, to spot the next important discussion.
Let me briefly introduce Ms. Rimel to you, so that she may come and introduce Senator Lieberman. Rebecca Rimel is a former nurse with a degree in business management and a gift for diplomacy. Under her spirited stewardship, Pew has encouraged opportunities for civic engagement by raising our awareness of major social and political issues and enabling us to address those issues by providing us intellectual leadership and support. Ms. Rimel and Pew understand that these are building blocks for a strong democracy.
So let me thank Rebecca Rimel and Pew and ask her to come now, and let me thank our distinguished speakers today and our distinguished audience today for your participation in the forum.[Applause.]
MS. RIMEL: Good morning and thank you for that overly generous introduction. While Luis Lugo, the director of our religion program, and I are delighted and honored that you’re here, I’m not sure that we would make Emily Post proud. Those of you that were brought up in my generation understand that she told us that you never talked about politics or religion in polite or public company, and certainly mixing the two would be a deadly brew, which I am sure is what we’re going to be doing here today.
Religion has been a very important part of our history. In fact, it was the impetus for our founders to create The Pew Charitable Trusts, and for over five decades it’s influenced our work in many ways, and in very important matters.
In fact, our founders felt strongly that people’s faith influenced their private lives, but it played a very, very important role in our public lives as well. In fact, though, we’ve spent decades separating the spiritual from the secular. Just think about it: in the academy, in the press, in politics, in schools, in our professional lives and no doubt in our many personal conversations as well.
Well, we’re a very spiritual nation — we know that. And separating these two has been artificial, and it’s amazing and encouraging to me that over the last really five to ten years religion has reemerged in the public square.
Religion throughout our history has been a wonderful force. It’s brought out the best of us — our generosity, our grace and our goodness. But it’s also brought out some other tendencies — our intolerance, our divisiveness and discrimination.
So let us understand as religion reemerges in many ways in our public life there’s going to be controversy, there’s going to be difference of opinion, and we’re going to have to make policy in a very tolerant and inclusive way.
Much of what we do at The Pew Charitable Trusts we describe as “engaging” and “informing” the public and hopefully our policymakers. Whether it’s on the role that the Internet is going to play in our public lives, the role that we must deal with in terms of campaign finance reform or the use of our public lands, some of it provokes controversy, but we hope always it enlightens and enlivens the debate.
But, you know, it’s interesting to me, we need thoughtful, wise people to guide us through this conversation. Faith-based initiatives is a big tent and there’s a lot included under that. No doubt everyone in this room, or most of us, would agree that religious organizations should be able to work with their congregations and use their own resources to serve those most in need. My guess is there’s probably not much controversy on that. But as you move along the continuum, whether it’s vouchers for such services, tax incentives or direct public support for such efforts, my guess is the controversy grows. But we’re going to have to make some decisions as a public and work with our policymakers to do so.
So it is our hope through the Forum that we will have an engaged, a thoughtful, a civil and insightful and tolerant debate.
And we are blessed with a wonderful panel to help guide us in that. They will bring wisdom and judgment. But we also have a wonderful example of just what I’ve been talking about, from which we can learn, someone who has taught us that their spiritual and sexual — excuse me, spiritual. [Laughter.] Their spiritual life, as well as their personal life — maybe I’d better stop there. That’s as good as it’s going to get.[Laughter.]
MR. LUGO: That was Emily Post’s third thing you don’t talk about. [Laughter.]
MS. RIMEL: Somebody, though, that truly has taught us that there’s nothing that we shouldn’t talk about perhaps in public in terms of the expression of public service as a good and how that stewardship and faith must work together as we carry out this mission, somebody who’s called for a national conversation on the importance of the role of religion in our public life, and nobody better than Senator Lieberman to launch us in that conversation. Senator.[Applause.]
SEN. LIEBERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, Rebecca. That has got to be one of the most memorable introductions. [Laughter.] I would say either you and I should go into couples therapy to figure that out, or I think it may be a harbinger of the next Pew grant for a forum on sex in public life in America.[Laughter.]
Anyway, I thank you and the Pew Forum for inviting me to participate in the launch of this very important project. I said to Rebecca before, and I mean it quite sincerely that The Pew Charitable Trusts seem to turn up in so many constructive and controversial places, where we need the fresh and independent insight that you provide. And I think this is clearly one of them.
You’ve chosen here to tackle a question as old and as big as the Republic itself, which is how we reconcile our national devotion to God with our national diversity of thought and prayer.
And I do think it’s appropriate to approach these large questions with humility. Humility is certainly justified here when we consider questions as large as the relationship between religion and public life in our country, between church and state; indeed between God and government. I do think it’s important to remember, as the framers and founders of our country did, that God was here first.
And if you’ll allow me a wonderful story to share with you, the story about a man who has the extraordinary opportunity to communicate directly with God, and struck and in awe of the total lack of limits on the eternal, the man says to the Almighty, “Lord, may I ask you in all humility, what is a second like to you?” And God says, “My son, a second to me is like a thousand years.” The man thinks about that for a moment and then says, “Lord, forgive me for asking another question of this kind, but what is a penny like to you?” And God says, “A penny to me is like a million dollars to you.” The man pauses for a moment or two and says, “Lord, with all humility, would you give me a penny?” [Laughter.] And God answers, “In a second.”[Laughter.]
So it is in that spirit of humility and also praise that I say that this Pew Forum has come along at just the right second in America’s public experience.
The tension between faith and freedom is built into the First Amendment, propped up by the theoretical wall of separation that Jefferson constructed to protect individual liberty, although as historians and others always remind us, he wasn’t there when the First Amendment was actually written. And it continues to ripple through our politics today as we see from the continuing controversies over the place of prayer in public places and the growing debate now over President Bush’s plan to promote faith-based initiatives.
I don’t surely come here this morning with solutions. Far better minds than mine have spent their careers trying to deconstruct or perhaps reconstruct the church/state wall, figuratively and literally, without reaching consensus on what the right balance should be.
And E.J. Dionne and Jean Bethke Elshtain and The Pew Trusts would not have been moved to launch this Forum if there were a quick and easy way to resolve the public’s, America’s conflicting impulses on this matter and the questions involved.
But after a lifetime of practicing my faith, three decades working in public life, and three months last year of running a national campaign that was the locus of much discussion about religion and politics, I hope I can offer a few worthwhile insights on this subject.
In particular, I want to raise some of the hard questions we must work through if we hope to find a larger proper space for faith in our public life. Let me start at what might be called the American beginning. If we need any proof of just how charged the intersection of religion and politics has been throughout our history, consider the following story about Jefferson himself. During the campaign, his presidential campaign of 1800, it seems that people of faith actually feared putting Jefferson, the great advocate of religious freedom but also in his way a skeptic, in power.
In fact, one die-hard Federalist who lived in a small town in Connecticut was so afraid of what would happen to her family bible if Jefferson became president, that she took it to the only Jeffersonian she knew and asked him to keep it for her. He tried to convince his Federalist neighbor that her fears about Jefferson were groundless, but she remained unpersuaded. “My good woman,” he finally said, “if all the bibles are to be destroyed, what is the use of bringing yours to me? That will not save it when it is found.” And the Federalist woman responded, “It will be perfectly safe with you. They’ll never think of looking for a bible in the house of a Democrat.” [Laughter.]
Well, flash forward 200 years to the campaign of 2000 and it seems in some respects that not much has changed, but in others a lot really has changed.
When Al Gore broke a barrier by asking me to be his running mate, the fact of my faith seemed, certainly happily for me, to be a cause of respect, even celebration. But once I opened my mouth and actually professed my faith, to give glory and thanks to God for the extraordinary opportunity I had been given, some of those Hosannas turned to “How dare he’s.” Some caricatured me as “Holy Joe,” which my mother actually appreciated. [Laughter.] But I did not. And when I expressed the truly outrageous view that religion can be a source of better values, and that faith-based groups can help government solve pressing social problems, my friends at the Anti-Defamation League nearly had a constitutional coronary.
But in the end, my experience convinced me that our attitudes about religion and public life have, in fact, changed considerably, and I would say progressively, not just over the last two centuries but even in the past two decades or a shorter period of time.
Most Americans, unlike some of those who were concerned about either my observance or my public professions of faith, seemed totally accepting of my faith, not just the fact that I was Jewish, but my observance of Judaism. And by the end of the campaign, in which I say joyously I experienced not one whit of anti-Semitism, barely anyone was even mentioning my religion, which was exactly what we had hoped for.
All of which I think is powerful evidence that I have experienced of just how tolerant and inclusive a nation we have become.
But I want to say that it was more than just tolerance at work there. I have long believed, and perhaps some of you have been burdened to hear me say over and over again, that religion is actually a source of unity in our society, not a source of division, certainly much more a source of unity than it is occasionally a source of division.
And last year I found that those who are not Jewish across the country warmly not just welcomed my professions of faith, but found in their perspective or their acceptance of the fact that I was a person of faith a bond of commonality. There were wonderful moments walking along the proverbial campaign rope line in a small town along the Mississippi early in the campaign, where an elderly woman asked me if I’d lean forward, and I did, and she said, “Senator, all of we Catholics are for you.” [Laughter.] So I wanted to ask her, E.J., “Is that a statement authorized officially by the Church?” I didn’t think so.
The lady standing next to her, not to be outdone, said, “And, Senator, we Southern Baptists are for you, too.” For these folks my religiosity, regardless of its denomination, was a tie that bound us together.
And my appeal to reinvigorate the role of religion in public life resonated I think in a different and deeper way than I anticipated, including speeches I gave at the fellowship chapel in Detroit early in the campaign and at Notre Dame University, in which I talked about harnessing the best forces of faith to help renew our moral health and renew our local communities. That reaction was yet another indication of something very important, dare I use the word “historic” that I believe is happening in America today that is directly related to the subject that you are considering here today.
I think America is experiencing today yet another spiritual awakening. I think this one began in the hearts of millions of Americans who felt threatened by the vulgarity and violence in our society, and by the degradation, the loss of many traditional societal limits and standards, and they turned to religion as the best way to rebuild a wall of principle and purpose around themselves and their families.
This new awakening manifests itself in spiritual and communal acts, in the upsurge of men and women of faith who are doing good works to repair some of the worst tears in our social and moral fabric, and it obviously also manifests itself in attendance, regular attendance at houses of worship across our country.
It also interestingly in a way that we can count expresses itself in commerce, even entertainment. Christian rock and gospel music now apparently outsells classical and jazz music combined; while the Christian-themed “Left Behind” novels have sold nearly 20 million copies collectively as of late last year.
And I do think that it is this spiritual awakening that is not only expressing itself in the lives of individual Americans, but is leading to the rising pressure to bring religion more actively into America’s public life.
What makes this revival to me so different from some of the previous awakenings we have had in our country is its pluralistic contours. And I think this is not just an expression of tolerance but of real respect for the multiplicity of faiths at work in America today and the common origins and purposes that we share.
And in one sense, of course, it’s a reflection of the fact that we’ve become a more tolerant society, but those millions of Americans who want religion to play a bigger part in our society are I think particularly mindful of the repercussions or some of the possible effects of that larger role. And that was shown quite explicitly in the recent public agenda survey that Pew supported. It shows that these fellow citizens who want religion to play a larger role in our public life embrace an increasingly inclusive vision of faith in the public square. They want religion to play a larger societal role, but interestingly they seem to care little or none about what denomination it is. Or to put it another way, they believe it is inappropriate and inconsiderate for believers to force their faith on others in the workplace or in other public settings. This comes not out of my perceptions, although I have seen it, but it comes specifically out of the results of that public opinion survey.
For instance, even though nearly three-quarters of those asked believe that school prayer is beneficial, and six out of ten believe it is constitutional, the clear majority say they favor a moment of silence as a broadly acceptable middle ground.
This remarkable degree of sensitivity I think should be encouraging to believers, but also particularly to non-believers. It shows that we as Americans are, in fact, more and more, if you will, singing from the same ecumenical hymnbook, at least in public, and as such have less and less to fear from one another when religion is discussed and works its way into public life.
It suggests that pushing out the boundaries between church and state to pull in the best forces of faith need not become a pitched Promethean struggle. Yet as my experience in the campaign demonstrated, the heighten sensitivities do extend both ways. So I would suggest that the challenge ahead of us now, if we hope to respond to the yearning of so many Americans for a better balance between faith and freedom, is as much political or communal as it is legal, although in our country the law and the Constitution will ultimately have the last word.
Those of us who are seeking a larger suitable space for faith must engage those who feel threatened in a broad and open conversation about what it is we are seeking and why. That is I think what makes the launch of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life so important and so promising. This is a conversation that is begging for facilitation, for, if you will, an honest broker, big thinkers, and the Pew Forum is perfectly positioned to fill that role.
As we go forward with this conversation, I believe that the burden first falls on those of us, if you will, who are believers and who are advocating a larger role for faith in our public life. We must make the case not dictate the terms. For starters, we must remind those of our fellow citizens who are skeptical or fearful about the irrefutable and irreplaceable role that Rebecca referred to that religion played in our national founding and in our efforts to realize as more perfect union.
This is more than a mere memory lapse, because the fact is that the wall of separation has grown so beyond its original conception to mythical proportions that some Americans believe it is not just inappropriate but unconstitutional for a public official or even a clergyman or woman to praise the Lord in public. They need to know that the First Amendment freedom that they are standing up for was originally recognized and put there as a blessing from God. In fact, the framers held these rights sacrosanct precisely because they were endowed to us by our creators, it says right at the outset of the Declaration of Independence.
We also need to make the point that religion in America, beyond being a unifying force throughout our history, has also informed and strengthened our sense of purpose and changed our country for the better. In other words, we are not in our time discovering the idea of faith-based organizations playing a larger societal role.
In the 18th Century, what was called the first Great Awakening helped put America on the road to independence and freedom and equality.
In the 19th Century the second Great Awakening gave birth to the abolitionist movement and made more real the promise of equal opportunity.
In the early 20th Century a third religious awakening inspired great acts of justice and charity toward the poor and the exploited, which led to the first great wave of social welfare legislation in our nation.
And, of course, in the 1960s religious leaders and religious values energized the modern civil rights movement.
We also need to make the case that faith, while not surely the only source of values in America, has long been a powerful and principled standard setter. Among other things, faith helps strengthen society by strengthening individuals, raising us up as we struggle with our own imperfections and strive to live moral lives.
And faith is clearly the fount of countless simple acts of kindness and humanity by individuals and organizations from giving a homeless man a blanket to wrapping a child in a warm embrace to caring for the ill; all of which cumulatively elevate this nation, make it a better place.
The impact of faith is great and broad, but its defense must be more specific. When we make our case, our language must be precise and the laws and programs we develop to harness the best forces of faith must be tight. That won’t always be easy because of the complexity of the issues, and frankly the lack of clarity in the constitutional landscape that we occupy in this particular area. Too often people assume that faith-based initiatives must mean entanglement, establishment and at the worst ultimately theocracy. Of course, that need not be the case and should not be the case. We’re not calling for government funding for religion and certainly not for government endorsement of any one religion, or even government favoritism for religious groups over non-religious groups. In fact, in some sense we are calling for an end to favoritism of non-religious groups over religious groups.
We are talking about lessening the legal and social hostility toward voluntary religious expression in public. We are talking about improving understanding about what the Constitution does and does not permit along the lines of the Clinton administration’s successful program to educate educators about how to walk the church/state line constructively in our public schools. And of course right now we are talking about expanding our partnerships with faith-based social service providers to capitalize on their ability to help us feed the hungry, house the homeless, cure the addicted and more broadly give hope to the hopeless.
President Bush’s plan to promote faith-based initiatives has, I think, precipitated exactly the kind of national conversation we need to engage in. The president, I believe, has made a convincing case for the constructive contributions that faith-based groups can make in meeting real social needs. He has, he has said, seen firsthand the extraordinarily good works these non-profits do, as have I.
I also believe the president has been wise to characterize potential faith-based partners as a supplement to what government does to solve social problems and not as a substitute. No matter how effective faith-based and other grassroots programs may be, they’re not equipped to meet all the nation’s needs for housing, healthcare, hunger, drug treatment, job training or childcare, among other things — not equipped really to meet most of the nation’s needs.
I want to suggest this morning that where the president has fallen short thus far, perhaps intentionally so, is on the working details of his plan. He’s been very effective in explaining the why but not in yet describing the what: what exactly can faith-based groups spend federal funding on, what criteria would be used for evaluating applicants, what safeguards would protect the rights of service recipients and employees, as well as taxpayers. This is one case, where if you’ll allow me to put it this way, the devil really is in the details. [Laughter.]
Not surprisingly, the critics have rushed to fill this vacuum, turning the Bush plan into a kind of political Rorschach test, with people projecting their worst fears into it. These fears concern and center around the hard questions the president has thus far left unanswered in his plan. And believe me, these are hard questions. For example, how do we choose among religious groups that may apply for governmental support? Perhaps you saw the New York Times article recently that indicated that programs run by several non-mainstream religious groups, a Hare Krishna halfway house in Philadelphia, Church of Scientology drug rehab and literacy projects, or a Unification Church abstinence effort may seek funding under President Bush’s plan. Will Americans be comfortable having federal funds flow to these faiths?
Here I think of the many tough questions involved, the constitutional context suggests, may I say with humility, a likely though not certain answer. These groups, like any others that apply for federal funding or recognition, should be judged based on what they do. If a non-religious group seeking federal aid meets the program criteria, produces proven results and does not violate civil rights or other laws, it doesn’t matter that they may have unconventional views on unrelated subjects. So we must ask: Shouldn’t the same standard apply to programs run by religious groups as well?
My own sense is that it would be problematic under existing jurisprudence of the First Amendment to discriminate against faith-based groups for their particular beliefs, although this question becomes more complicated when it becomes broader, as I will explain in the question after the next one.
I’m going in ascending order of difficulty and thorniness. Under current law, this is a question of what if the group itself discriminates? Under current law, religious groups have an exemption from Title VII of the Civil Rights laws that allows them to make hiring decisions based on an individual’s religious beliefs; that is, existing religious groups, a church, a synagogue, a temple, et cetera, et cetera.
Some charitable choice proposals have suggested that groups receiving federal social service money not only should keep that exemption, but also get a larger one, a provision allowing them to require their employees to adhere to the group’s teachings and tenets.
And that raises a number of very serious questions. Should religious groups continue to enjoy a Title VII exemption if they receive federal funding, which would potentially hold them to a lower standard than other federal aid recipients, and put the federal imprimatur on what some have called “faith-based bias”?
Even more difficult is the question raised by the Teachings and Tenets provision, which unlike the Title VII provision, merely exempting these groups from one type of federal lawsuit could potentially give these groups a license to override federal state and local civil rights protections — at least that’s a concern that is already being expressed in this debate.
Regardless of whether one thinks religious groups should have such vast discretion when using their own money, it is troubling to many that this provision would effectively give federally funded workplaces greater leeway to discriminate than their privately funded social service counterparts.
In a recent article statement in the New Republic, George Washington University Law Professor Jeffrey Rosen described this problem, and I quote, as “an irreconcilable conflict between the Democratic logic of anti-discrimination law, and the hierarchical values that make faith-based organizations what they are.” Well, I’m not prepared to say it’s irreconcilable, but it is difficult, and certainly could benefit from some fresh thinking by the big thinkers at the Pew Forum. (Laughter.)
You notice I’m following the inclination of my own faith tradition, which is to ask questions in response to questions.
The last question I want to raise is, I think, the most difficult and in some senses the most crucial one to resolve, for it goes to the heart of the purpose of charitable choice. Traditionally, faith-based charities that receive federal funds to provide social services have had to set up separate non-profits that were free of any religious involvement. That’s happened for a long time, and it allows groups like Catholic Charities and others, Jewish federations, et cetera to accept public money and do extraordinary good works that they do.
The original “charitable choice” provision in the 1996 Welfare Reform Law changed that in a limited way, and it enabled faith-based providers to offer their support without separating from the religious entity that was at the heart of their religious mission, so long as the federal dollars are not used to subsidized proselytizing and the provider does not discriminate against beneficiaries based on their individual faith.
Now that the president’s plan to expand charitable choice is up for discussion, people are again asking tough questions about whether this crosses the First Amendment’s church/state line and amounts to governmental support and promotion of religion.
Here too we truly need your clearheaded counsel in answering the tough questions here. And let me just raise a few. And I raise them to be provocative. If the proper protections are in place and the money cannot be used for proselytizing, and there are secular alternatives for beneficiaries to opt into, which I presume is one way of making sure that those who are receiving the services are not coerced into a proselytizing situation, what’s the harm?
Does society have more to fear from a — I offer this as a hopefully provocative example. Does society have more to fear from a rehabilitated drug addict, who has broken his habit through an explicitly religion-based treatment program than society has to fear from an untreated, un-rehabilitated drug addict?
Those are very difficult questions, and I must say that I myself ask them because I have not resolved them, and it is particularly why we need your support at this time.
We have begun to make demonstrable progress in dealing with some aspects of these questions, and reaching a better church/state balance, thanks in large part I think to the growing inclusivity, tolerance and mutual acceptance of the American people.
For his part, President Bush and my good friend John DiIulio, who is heading this program, have decided to move slowly here forward, and that’s not so bad, because the questions are complicated and I think have not brought forth answers about which we can feel comfortable, on which there’s a societal consensus of any kind.
But I’m an optimist and I believe that if we continue talking and working with one another, as will occur here in the Pew Forum, we can all have faith that we will sort through these theoretical thickets and find a true and lasting common ground in which religion can play a larger and still lawful role in our public life. And when we come to that moment, I hope that we will all feel comfortable in saying publicly and loudly, Amen.
MR. DIONNE: I just wanted to thank Senator Lieberman. John DiIulio is in the audience and he has offered to answer every single one of those difficult questions. So you can go up to —
MR. JOHN DiIULIO: Lieberman for President.
MR. DIONNE: So you can get on John after this is over, and he’ll answer the questions.
Before we turn to our panel, Senator Lieberman has offered to answer questions posed by others than himself. So I will call on whoever wants to ask the first question. Tom Edsall of the Post.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Yes. Tom. You were actually there for a while on that magical mystery tour last year. Good to see you.
MR. TOM EDSALL: It’s a pleasure to be with you.
How do you explain the difference between the two parties on religion, where people who go to church regularly and attend church tend to be more Republican, whereas those who do not tend to be Democratic and vote for you, for that matter.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Yes. That, if I may quote Rabbi Saperstein, is a question that’s hard to answer while standing on one foot. It’s a big question. Let me begin to try some answers.
I do think that part of the reason for that is the fault of the Democratic Party in the past, but that is changing. And during the – oh, I’ll date it broadly — ’60s and through the ’70s, and indeed somewhat into the ’80s, with the exception, of course, of President Carter, who notably and significantly got elected, Democrats seemed to be sending a message out that there was not respect for people of religion, that the party was dominated by non-believers, but, more than that, that faith was thought not to be in fashion. And if I may tell a story out of school, but it’s long enough now to be history, you know, I remember that then-Governor Clinton asked me to be on the national platform drafting committee in 1992. And we went to Santa Fe, New Mexico and we had a meeting over the weekend which was quite fascinating. And I said at one point, because I’d read a few platforms of both parties, “Hey, you know, something’s missing from our platform. The name of God.”
Well, “What did he say?” But there was a bit of hesitancy and they said we’ll think about it. It never happened in the platform. I’m pleased to say by ’96, the platform was rich with references to the Almighty. And in fact, President Clinton — and, of course, this is part of the irony and whatever else one wants to call it of all the controversy surrounding the President — President Clinton had, first as a person of faith, and has, and during his presidency had, an extraordinary capacity to speak the language of faith in a remarkably inclusive manner and to reach for faith at times of national crises. I think one of the best speeches he gave was, in some senses, a sermon, a national sermon, a national civil-religion sermon, which was on the Sunday after the terrorist attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma City when he went to the memorial service and spoke.
So I do think that there was beginning to be more of a receptivity to expressions of faith within the Democratic Party. And, of course, I and others have tried to do our part. Vice President Gore takes his faith seriously. He spoke about it during the campaign. You know, I know it was controversial, but I don’t think that, except for Jimmy Carter, for a good two or three decades, probably more, that any Democratic candidate for president would have said what Al Gore said last year, which is when he faces the most difficult questions in his life, he asks himself, you know, “What would Jesus do?”
Now, why, notwithstanding that, do the public opinion surveys continue to suggest that more people, as I gather they do — that more people who are regular church-goers are at least — I don’t know if I want to yield that point. But why does it appear that more organized religious groups tend to be involved in the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party? And I think here maybe we go to two things.
I don’t know what the statistics show about this. Maybe you know for sure. I mean, there’s an awful lot of church-going, temple-going, synagogue-going, mosque-going Americans who vote Democratic. I can tell you that.
I think part of what’s happened is that on some of the more controversial social and religious issues, such as abortion, that are defined from a religious base, that groups who are, on that case, on the pro-life side feel more of a kinship with the Republican Party based on policy. I don’t know. For my part, I tried, I know Al Gore tried, and Bill Clinton tried, and others in the party tried to, by our statements, if not our lives, make people of faith feel welcome within the Democratic Party. And, you know, I believe that that will continue to be so.
I think I also tried, in my own way, to — one of my most cherished possessions from the campaign is a week of Doonesbury cartoons about my own professions of faith, in which one of the — I’m quoting, and I apologize for what may seem like the lack of humility in quoting a cartoon about myself. But the character is saying, “God is back in politics.” And one of us says “And this time it’s the God of inclusion and love and warmth and tolerance.” And they say “Who’s done it? Who’s brought him back? And the other character says “It’s Joe Lieberman.” And the other one says, “I thought he was Jewish? That vision of God sounds very Christian.” And the answer is, “He is Jewish, but that’s just his base.”
Anyway, so I hope that — but I continue to take it to be my own personal political mission. I know a lot of others in the party do, to have people of faith feel equally welcome in the Democratic Party as they are in the Republican Party.
Yes. Long answer. I apologize. Big question. Yeah?
REV. GENE RIVERS: Senator Lieberman, on Tom Edsall’s question, according to Gallup data, blacks are arguably the most religious group —
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Hear, hear!
REV. RIVERS: — in the country, and they voted overwhelmingly Democratic.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Right.
Q: So just a note on that point, that we need to diversify sort of our understanding to be more inclusive in terms of our questions. While it may be true that white conservative Protestants voted overwhelmingly Republican, it’s clear from the data that blacks, who are theologically much more conservative than white Protestant conservatives, voted overwhelmingly Democratic.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Right. That’s a very important point I tried to make, but I didn’t make it clearly enough. And part of what I’m saying is that I don’t know what the data says about the political inclinations of those who attend houses of worship regularly. What we do know is that the perception comes somewhat from religious groups that are organized around issues, who attempt to be more involved, more visibly involved, anyway, in the Republican Party. But you’re absolutely right.
I mean, you know, I got in trouble on this subject because of a speech I was privileged to make at an African-American church fellowship chapel in Detroit. And thank you. Thanks, Reverend, for saying that. Thanks for all your good works.
Q: Senator, when you talk about harnessing the best forces of faith — to harness the best forces of faith, can you define that for me, because it’s so broad? And just trying to harness faith is kind of hard.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Yeah, right. That’s the difference. That goes to the conversation between man and God, doesn’t it? That is, the finite with the infinite, the very temporal with the eternal. There are many answers to this.
Look, I have always felt that the framers — and I’m going to give the answer in a uniquely American context, The framers understood a truth, which is that in a society that they were building in which the government would not be all-powerful — this was all about freedom and limited government — that to have a chance for a better society, you have to have other sources of good works, of good behavior. And that is to say, the government wasn’t going to tell everybody every moment of the day exactly what they should do. And they understood, the framers did, that faith can be a source of good values.
I got in trouble at Fellowship Chapel for quoting, of all people, George Washington, who said in his Farewell Address, we shouldn’t indulge the supposition — I’m quoting, not exactly — that we can have a moral society without faith being involved. Now, of course, he didn’t mean that only religious people could be good people. But I think that expressed the vision of the founders.
The other way, as I mentioned briefly, which is — and that was the individual acts. There’re also just the host of communal and charitable organizations motivated by faith — health care, groups dealing with the impoverished, dealing with social problems — that are already harnessing the power of faith to make this a better society. And, you know, I do think — and this is a longer topic. Father Neuhaus has written long ago and influenced me about the place of faith in the public square. For a long period of our history we had a kind of understanding about America’s civil religion — open, non-denominational, inclusive, deistic — that could be expressed in the public square. And I think when we did, it was good for our country. It created a tone. I’ve given a lot of other talks around here and elsewhere about the fact that once, as Father Neuhaus has said, you take faith out of the public square, it leaves a vacuum which is filled by other sources of values, not as good usually. I’m thinking about the culture, the entertainment culture. That’s one way.
And then the other way we’re dealing with now is, can we uniquely and specifically harness that power for the betterment of society through faith-based organizations? And that’s exactly where we have to deal with the questions that I raised.
Okay. Yes. E.J., make sure you tell me when you want me to stop. Senators have a tendency to filibuster.
Q: Senator Lieberman, you talk about creating a bigger role for faith in public life. And I’d like to introduce a subject that’s not usually thought about in those terms, and that is national missile defense. You went along on a trip to talk to NATO officials in which you were quoted as saying that there was a consensus in Washington that national missile defense should go on. And there are people in the religious community who believe that funding this will take billions of dollars away from social programs to address serious problems of poverty and health care in our country. Are you willing to justify national missile defense on religious grounds, or would you, yourself, make a separation between talking about such an issue in secular rather than religious terms?
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: It’s a great question. I’m going to try to answer briefly, and I’m glad to engage further on other occasions with you and those who feel as you do.
What I said at this conference in Munich was that it was my opinion that there was a broad consensus, in fact expressed in law, a law that was adopted in 1999 that said that America would build a national missile defense when it was technologically feasible. And we were going ahead on that course, that it was subject to the annual appropriations and authorizations process, which is a way of saying that we have to decide each year on priorities. And that’s the question that you’re raising. Each year we will have to decide, on the basis of priorities, both defense and non-defense. But I can hardly resist making at least one very temporal, secular comment, which is that if we don’t adopt what my children would call a humongous tax cut, as proposed by the President, we will have funds to meet more of our social needs and to protect our national security as well.
I mean, I do think in an imperfect world — I’m going to try and stop it here — in an imperfect world the decision to create a defense of our people, of our country from a missile attack is a good thing to do, is, in its own way, a protection and advancement of life. That’s one of the first responsibilities of government. So we can argue about — I think the threat is real. That’s what I tried to tell the folks at the conference in Munich and the desire to develop a defense to it is real.
One more question. Is that why you came up here, E.J.?
MR. DIONNE: No.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Oh, okay. Okay. Yes.
MS. CATHY GROSSMAN: For decades, Catholic, Jewish and Lutheran organizations provided billions of dollars’ worth of high quality social services through 501(c)(3) organizations. And apart from the occasional horror story of places that are, you know, called St. Vincent DePaul being asked to change the name to Mr. Vincent DePaul, there hasn’t been a huge hue and cry that they needed to make religious changes in order to accomplish the work that they’d provably been accomplishing. Why hasn’t that pattern been sufficient? Why have major Protestant groups not followed the Lutherans, the Catholics, the Jews in performing their works out of their religious motivation for the community through that process?
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Well, you see, I think that gets to the third of the three questions I raised at the end of my remarks which we all have to work together to answer. And, you know, there’s the old business about you can’t be a little bit pregnant. The question is here, are we trying, in fact, to be a little bit religious? And what we really mean inevitably is that we want to be a bit more religious.
Let me try to clarify that mystical statement I’ve just made, or at least confusing statement I’ve just made. Let’s see. You’re right. For a long period, as I said in my remarks, in a very constitutionally, legally permissible way, religious groups have created separate non-profit corporations that have carried out good works. So what was in the mind of Congress when it established charitable choice in 1996 as part of welfare reform, and subsequently — or maybe in one case earlier — with SAMSHA and some of the block grants, urban development, or social service block grants that have done the same?
It was, I think, an attempt to try to draw more religious groups into doing public works, social service work, but without really confronting the questions, the difficult questions that my third question raises. In other words, I think part of what was involved here is a feeling that not only, as in the cases you described that have existed for a long time, can religious groups through separate non-profits do good work, bring in, as Catholic Charities has to Connecticut, thousands of new Americans and helped them acclimate themselves and integrate in a society, as all the other religious groups have done good work, but that maybe, through the religion itself, they can help do good works. And that’s where we come to the thorny constitutional questions.
So what I’m suggesting is that in the desire to bring faith-based groups in and to see if we can’t in a constitutional way benefit more as a society from those groups, I think we’re just now getting to the difficult questions that that raises. So to specifically answer your question, I think one of the unstated reasons why we are now thinking of going beyond — maybe I’m wrong, but I want to suggest this — beyond the independent, religious, off-shoot, non-profit corporation is to see whether there is a way in which an explicitly faith-based group, using faith, can cure a drug addict of the habit, or help our children of a tendency to violence to not be so.
I mean, I had a private conversation with — you know, one of those terrible old light bulb jokes — how many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the bulb has to want to change. And the question here, as this person I was debating, was — the question is, as we deal with social problems, human imperfection and dysfunction, people have to want to change. So the question raised here is is religion one of the ways in which we can help people to want to change for their betterment, for the peace and tranquility and satisfaction of their lives, as well as for society’s? But when we do that — and I think that’s a direction in which we’re heading, or that’s the question raised — we have very profound constitutional questions which we haven’t yet answered satisfactorily.
MR. DIONNE: One last one.
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: All right. Yes? You know, I always ask one-too-many questions.
Q: I know. I apologize.
There have been some questions about statements that the Republican campaign made about the Nation of Islam, not giving them funds because Louis Farrakhan had made anti-Semitic comments and that he preached hate. And at the same time, the Nation of Islam was one of the leading social service providers for rehabilitation in American prisons. So I wondered, as a Jewish-American, what your opinion might be specifically on that?
SENATOR LIEBERMAN: Tough question, but I’d put it under, in my own opinion — thanks for getting me into trouble here this morning — in my own opinion, it falls in the category of response that I gave to the first question I raised, in which I mentioned the Hare Krishnas and the Church of Scientology. And I don’t mean to link groups together. But, look, if the Nation of Islam establishes a separate corporation — and I know from Connecticut that Nation of Islam groups have done extraordinarily good social service, communal development work — then I would say there’s not a basis to deny them, presuming that they are living within the host of other laws that we apply to such groups — civil rights, non-discrimination, and the rest. In other words, I wouldn’t say no because, at some point, some leader associated with that religious group said something that I found offensive and insulting, or that society generally would have found to be at least intolerant. That’s my own point of view.
Now again, if you get back to the preceding question where you get right into the religious group using faith, whatever it is, to deal with social problems, then it becomes a thornier question.
Okay. I think though I’m enjoying this much more than what I’m going back to the Hill to do, you’ve got a wonderful panel ahead of you. I thank you very much, again to Pew, for convening this group and to all of you for being here and for your superb questions. It’s been an honor to speak with you this morning. Thank you.[Applause]
MR. DIONNE: I want to thank Senator Lieberman. And in the spirit of his remarks, I see nothing wrong with answering a question with a question. So the question is why does he ask so many questions? And the answer is why shouldn’t he ask so many questions? And when he’s answered them all, he’s going to be back with us. I also appreciated his remarks and many of the others from the audience. It occurred to me that the next event of the Pew Forum will be a talk by Mr. St. Vincent DePaul, and it will be held at the Saint 501(c)(3) Church.
I’d just like to, before I introduce Jean, I want to make one note, which you probably have already noticed. Congressman J.C. Watts had to cancel out at the last minute, and we’re very grateful that Congressman Mark Souder of Indiana has agreed to join us. It couldn’t be more appropriate because, as I understand it, Congressman Souder is about to become the chair of the subcommittee that will oversee the Office on Faith-based and Community Initiatives. So we’re very grateful that you’ve joined us.
I just want to say one word about my friend, Jean. Jean wrote an essay once that I think we should all sort of enshrine here in Washington. It was an essay called “Politics Without Cliché.” Now imagine. We wouldn’t know what to do in that circumstance. She said that politics beyond cliché means one must always look to the human dimension of things, a dimension that cannot be derived from a flatness of being, a world cut and dried to our own measure. In other words, a world in which you ask a lot of questions.
Jean warns us against the antithesis of political responsibility, which she calls a blurred, all purpose, grandiose leap into universal dogma. And she also warns against a politics in which everything has a neat label on it, telling us whether it is left or right, and, hence, whether we are enjoined to cheer or hiss. To live within the truth, Jean has written, following Vaclav Havel, is to give voice to a self that has embraced responsibility for the here and now. To assume responsibility is not to lapse into dour moralism, not to universalize a giddy and boundless compassion, but to take up the specific, concrete burdens of one’s own culture. And in a very Elshtainian way, she concludes, this is tough stuff. But then democracy is not for sissies.[Laughter.]
Jean has never ducked a fight. But as philosopher Michael Walzer also said of her — he said that her own politics is so clearly marked by humanity, common sense and theoretical wit that intelligent readers and listeners will always recognize her as a friend. I give you my friend and colleague, Jean Elshtain.
MS. JEAN BETHKE ELSHTAIN: Thank you very much. I want to add my greetings to those of Melissa Rogers, Rebecca Rimel, my friend E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post. E.J., I don’t have quotes from your work, but you’re so well known that I probably needn’t provide any. E.J., of course, is known to you as a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post. He pops up regularly on television news programs and has written a number of important books, including one that made a huge impact on a number of us called “Why Americans Hate Politics.”
Now the American tradition, as you know, is one in which religion has played a complex and very visible role in politics, in our civil society, if you will. It was never the view or practice that the logic of church-state separation required or requires stripping civil society and public life of religion. Now some of you know of that famous Frenchman, Alexis deTocqueville, who visited America in the Jacksonian era, wrote up this classic work on “Democracy in America.” And in that work, he noted the associational enthusiasm of Americans, the way Americans rolled up their sleeves and went to work together on whatever issues were present in a given community.
America’s churches and synagogues were central to this effort. And in his famous account, Tocqueville recounted how persons with religious convictions and their pastors and ministers and priests – this is around 1830 now – took a direct hand in civil life. This did not involve an official civil religion. It was not state sanctioned. But it was most certainly state permitted and even encouraged.
The First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from establishing a religion, also guarantees to each American full religious liberty, the freedom to practice his or her religion as a public, not simply a private matter. Religious believers were and are public persons, both as citizens and as members of their respective churches, synagogues or mosques, who brought and bring distinctive habits of mind, heart and civic action to bear on the polity.
So this leads to the recognition that religion and politics are distinct, yet related in a variety of complex and interesting ways. This leaves open a huge number of questions about how religion enters politics and civil society. Senator Lieberman has put some of those questions on the table. Our distinguished panel will address some of Senator Lieberman’s questions and raise questions of their own. And this is all part of our hope that the forum will raise the level of civil discourse on such matters, both from the end of political life and its understanding of religion and from the side of religious life and its understanding of politics.
Now with that, let me introduce our panel in the order in which each will be speaking. The panelists are asked — it’s a frustrating limit — to take around five minutes, and I will start to do the grumpy things that chairs do if they wander too much beyond that limit. Our first speaker will be David Brooks, who is the senior editor of The Weekly Standard. He is a contributing editor at Newsweek, a regular commentator on National Public Radio, CNN, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and author of a very witty book, which you should read if you have not, called “Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There,” published by Simon & Schuster.
I also noted that Mr. Brooks graduated from the University of Chicago, which means he’s intelligent by definition. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Forbes, The Washington Post, on and on.
Our next contributor-panelist will be Rabbi David Saperstein, who is the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. He’s described in a recent profile in The Washington Post as the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill where he represents the national reform Jewish movement to Congress and to the administration. In 1999, Rabbi Saperstein was elected as the first chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that was created by a unanimous vote of Congress. He serves on the boards of numerous national organizations including the NAACP, People for the American Way, and co-chairs The Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty.
He will be followed by my friend, Azizah Al-Hibri, who is a professor of law at the T.C. Williams School of Law at the University of Richmond. She is on sabbatical leave this year at the National Humanities Center in Raleigh-Durham, where I’m also on sabbatical leave. So we get to see one another rather frequently. She is researching a book on the Islamic marriage contract in American courts. Professor Al-Hibri is director of Karama, Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. She has a Ph.D. in philosophy and a JD from the University of Pennsylvania, is the author of many books and articles including “Islamic Jurisprudence” and “Critical Race Feminism.”
And now, we have with us two members of Congress, Congressman Chet Edwards, Democrat from Texas, who has represented the 11th Congressional District of Texas since January of 1991. During his service in the United States House of Representatives, Congressman Edwards has developed a reputation as a fiscal conservative who fights hard for his district while also being a leader on national issues, such as budget, defense, veterans education and religious liberty. He’s a member of the House Appropriations Committee and presently holds several key leadership positions.
He is one of four Democratic chief deputy whips and is co-chairman of the House Army Caucus. He co-chairs the National Security Caucus and the Bipartisan House Impact Aid Coalition. And, Congressman Edwards considers his greatest legislative achievement, we are told, to be his defense of religious liberty.
And our final panelist will be Congressman Mark Souder, Republican, Indiana, 4th District. He was first elected to Congress in 1994 after working for a very distinguished Senator, United States Senator Dan Coats for 10 years during Senator Coates’ tenure in the House and then the Senate. Representative Souder was named chairman of the Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources for the 107th Congress. This committee has jurisdiction over domestic and international anti-drug efforts throughout the federal government and is the authorizing subcommittee for the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In addition, as you already heard, the panel has oversight of several other agencies, including the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, as well as the Departments of Justice, Education, Health and Human Services, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development, accounting for about 70 percent of the federal budget.
With that, I’m going to turn it over to David Brooks.
MR. DAVID BROOKS: Thanks, Jean. I’m afraid I’m going to only echo two of the points that Senator Lieberman issued; the first being that this is, indeed, a moment of tremendous change in religious and public life and in general. Yesterday, President Bush delivered to Congress a budget. And on the cover it said, “A budget for new beginnings.” And I think it’s a sign of the greatness of our country that when we have a beginning, we don’t want an old beginning, we don’t even want a middle-aged beginning, we’re going to have a new beginning.
And in that budget there’s something called the Federal Compassion Capital Fund, $700 million. And I have to say, those of us on the right, if Al Gore had proposed a federal compassion fund, we would have hooted in derisive laughter. But with George Bush proposing it, you know, why stop there? Why not a federal courage fund, a foundation for good works and good mercy, tax credits for extremely polite behavior?
So I think one of the things that’s changing is maybe people on the left are accepting God in public life and people on the right are accepting government in public life, though I’m not sure Congressman Souder’s going to take national testing. That would be going to the extreme. But I thought I’d start by reporting on a little research project I just did.
I spent much of the fall going to college campuses, talking to students to see their views just in general on life. And two things leapt out at you. I went to Princeton because when I want to escape the artificial of Washington and see the real world, I go to Princeton. And the first thing you notice about the kids — I interviewed about 60 or 70 of them — is that they’re phenomenally hard working, really 18 hours a day, from 6:00 in the morning until 2:00 at night. Some of them I met set up play dates with each other so at 7:00 in the morning they meet so they can actually chat with their friends, because they don’t have time during the day. I took some kids to lunch at the dining hall. We’d meet at 12:30. By 1:00, me and the kid I was talking to were the only kids left in the dining hall because everyone else had gone off to do track or to the library or to do community service.
And that’s the second thing you notice, is the tremendous emphasis on all the campuses I visited of community service and religion. As one of the professors told me, “I don’t know where these kids find lepers, but they find ‘em and they read to ‘em.” And the religious faith that you found in these students was incredibly strong.
There’s a great sociologist of religion at Princeton, Robert Wuthnow, and I asked him, over the term of your years at Princeton have you noticed this change? And he said “It’s been striking in the past ten years. Prior to that, if you came from a religious home, it was like you had acne. It was not something you wanted to talk about. But now it’s everywhere.” And, indeed, I attended a Catholic student group, and there were 75 kids [who] showed up on one Tuesday evening at 10:00. They start their meetings at 10:00 because they have to work until 10:00.
And so that really is a sea change. Then, of course, if you think religion has come to the ivory league, one of the most backward and parochial parts of American society, it’s probably come all across society. But then you ask, what kind of religion? And Wuthnow was very specific about that. He says it’s a religion without evil. It’s a sunny, sort of spiritual religion, a religion of good works and optimism. And I spoke to another professor there, a professor of politics named Robby George, who was describing a meeting he had with some of his students where he was telling them — he and his department co-chair were telling them not to cheat on their papers. He said, in the first place, the Internet makes it a lot easier to cheat on papers. But in the second place, it makes it a lot easier for us to catch you cheating. And then he said “And, besides, if you cheat, God will see you in your room and he will punish you.” Now at this, his other department co-chair came up to offer a rebuttal to that statement, because that was not the way you’re supposed to talk. And now, at that point, you can, especially if you’re a person like me, leave Princeton and write a piece saying, well, Bill Bennett is right, there’s been a collapse. On the one hand there’s a rise of religion, but it’s a fuzzy, spiritualized religion, a new-age religion; it’s values not virtues; it’s a new-age, non-demanding religion.
But the problem with that thesis, which many of us on the right have already written, is that if you go back through American history you find it was always thus, that every time you get a Jonathan Edwards talking about damnation, immediately he turns into Benjamin Franklin. And there are a lot more Benjamin Franklins who have the Protestant work ethic without much of the Protestantism, and that the American faith has always been about good works and about achievement. You know, in America, the one thing we all, all of us of all faiths, have embraced about Puritanism is this notion of two callings, this calling to God and the calling to work. And if you look at American history, often it’s the calling to work and the calling to improve yourself that takes priority.
And so I think we do have in America a faith which is optimistic, which is about self-discipline, industry, prosperity, work and success. And the faith that was articulated, really by Abraham Lincoln, the quintessential American who said life is about self-improvement, and also a faith that was characterized really well, I think, by Henry Steele Commager. I’ll just read you a short little passage from a book he wrote called “The American Mind.”
“It was perhaps inevitable that an optimistic and easy-going people should develop a religion whose tests were ethical rather than intellectual; a practical people, a religion whose demands could be satisfied — or who could be satisfied by material concessions; an efficient people, a religion that justified itself by calculable results; a democratic people, a religion which embraced humanity indiscriminately rather than merely a chosen few.”
So I think when we’re talking about religion in public life, we’re talking about a religion that has been strongly influenced by the American atmosphere, no matter what particular faith we’re talking about. So when we talk about Bush’s faith-based initiative, which has been introduced and is the subject of so much discourse, my own instinct is that it is very easy to raise theoretical concerns. And on the left and on the right, that has been done. On the left, generally about some of the things Senator Lieberman talked about: “Will these groups discriminate that get federal funds?” On the right, Pat Robertson raised some issues: “Are we going to give money to Scientologists?” And on the right, especially: “Will these groups who get the federal money be corrupted?” The phrase on the right is “the devil’s embrace,” about what will happen to these groups who get federal funds?
But my own view is that it’s easier to raise theoretical than practical objections, that when the rubber hits the road, first of all you’ve got a guy like John DiIulio, who has approached this issue, it seems to me, in a very cautious and reasonable way. It’s not Ira Magaziner with his 800 folders. Really, the Bush administration seems to be going into this in a very cautious way. But secondly, because Americans do have this common faith in achievement, this faith that we should improve ourselves, that we should self-improve ourselves.
I have a good friend named Marshall Whitman, a Jewish guy like me, who worked for the Christian Coalition. And despite the divides there, they had the common faith, and there really wasn’t that much working problem that you’d think. You know, a Jew in the Christian Coalition would be a problematic thing, but it wasn’t.
And then, finally, the subject is, well, a lot of people share this sort of vaguely secular faith in working together and in working and achieving, but what about the religious right? And this sort of is, I think, one of the true faiths in America, this idea that there are in the South millions of people who want to re-fight the Scopes trial. And this is almost a blind faith in America, almost as blind as E.J.’s faith that Al Gore won the Florida state vote.
But I think one of the things that people who travel among the religious right and people who covered the campaign learned, first of all, the religious right is these days is reflected by George Bush more than Jerry Falwell. Which is to say, it’s not as sectarian, it’s much more affluent, and it’s much more fuzzy in the way George Bush describes it. And so even those groups, which have traditionally been more sectarian, are much more pluralistic now, much more into self-improvement and being a faith of good works rather than specific sectarian disputes.
So I think when we’re talking about this debate, we should remember that, you know, the federal government may end up giving money to the Unification Church or the Scientologists, but all of us who live here in America have within us the faith of the pioneer, the faith of the immigrant, the faith of the achiever, the faith of Dale Carnegie, and that that faith is going to iron out, in practical terms, a lot of the theoretical problems that could otherwise arise.
MR. SAPERSTEIN: — the humor of the introduction this morning. Rebecca Rimel and the Pew Foundation are amongst the two visionaries in American life today. And what they’ve done in their effective, creative, outside-of-the-box thinking and planning and funding has really transformed the American religious community’s ability to play a robust role in American public life. And in choosing the remarkable E.J. Dionne and Jean Bethke Elshtain to head this project, that was a stroke of genius. And they, in turn, in choosing Melissa Rogers, chose one of these truly rare figures who enjoys unqualified respect and trust across the political spectrum. So I’m really honored to be part of this whole discussion with you, with Senator Lieberman, with this distinguished panel here.
Senator Lieberman’s remarks fell into two categories. First, the role of religion in American political and public life. Second, charitable choice. Let me see how quickly I can respond to both, the first longer, the second in just a minute.
Richard John Newhouse helped focus this debate a number of years ago in writing about the naked public square. He lives in a different country than I live in. I have looked at the public square in America and found it filled with religion all of my life. Senator Lieberman cited the numerous examples of that and just touched on them. Whether you’re talking about the music that is produced, the books that are produced, what you hear on the radio, what you see on the television, the discourse that you have on college campuses to public forums of America, and even in political campaigns even before Joe Lieberman, religion was always a major part of American public life. But many of the thinkers in this area fail to distinguish between the public forum and the government forum. They talk about them as though they are one. It is the limited question of the government forum that is a controversial issue. And we do not help the debate in addressing what the proper role is of religion in the government forum by mixing it with the very interesting question of whether or not in the public forum robust religious expression can offset the secular culture and the problems with the secular culture in America.
I want to focus a little bit on the question of what people should do on the governmental forum, what role religion plays and what is appropriate and what is not appropriate, particularly in political life. And I say “appropriate,” not “legal” or “not legal.” You have a right to do a lot of things in America that may be wrong. And religion and political candidates and leaders may well do things that are bad for religion, bad for America or bad for democracy. So what, then, are the appropriate uses of religion in political life? Let me suggest three.
First, discussion of religion can help explain who candidates and political leaders are what they are about. Profiles of George Bush and Al Gore and Joe Lieberman could neither be accurate nor complete if they did not describe the candidate’s heart-felt religious beliefs and the role that religion plays in their lives. And since Americans knew comparatively little about Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Judaism, there were legitimate reasons for more questions to be asked, more answers and explanations provided than might otherwise be the case.
Secondly, candidates not only can, but should express their views on religious policy issues confronting America. That needs to be part of the public debate. The American people need to know which elected officials, which candidates support and which oppose Representative Istook’s constitutional amendment to weaken the establishment clause, or current legislative proposals on school prayer, scientific creationism and posting of the Ten Commandments, protecting the rights of the American workers on their job, or on charitable choice. Now, sometimes the same religious rhetoric may sound a little bit different, depending what the perceived political agenda is. A candidate that is identified with religious tolerance, it won’t be seen as a code, religious language, for ending religious tolerance. A candidate who’s perceived or a leader who’s perceived as being religiously exclusive or intolerant, the same language may be seen as a code for that agenda. And it isn’t just the words, but what the words are seen to represent that often helps strike what the different public reaction to those words would be.
Now, third, the American people have a right to know how candidates’ religious values will inform their policy views and how religious leaders’ views will inform their policy views. In this respect, while the Anti-Defamation League’s public letter to Senator Lieberman raised vital concerns and sensitized the public and the candidates to these issues, the ADL was, in my view, however, woefully off-base in its subsequent assertion that it is inappropriate for candidates to suggest that religious beliefs shape or inform their public policy and that religion, quote, “belongs in the church, in the synagogue, in the home and in the heart; it doesn’t belong on a political campaign, and certainly not in politics or government.” End quote.
Well, almost every member of Congress and public figure with whom I have worked in my 25 years in Washington is informed by his or her religious beliefs. Religion as an inspirational source of America’s political values has a long tradition, and much of Lieberman’s rhetoric resonated with the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King. I believe not only do they have a right to talk about it, but a responsibility to explain how their religious views will shape what they are going to do in terms of their political agenda. Religion must always be in the public forum, a goad to the moral conscience of our nation. I happen to believe the wall keeping government out of religion allows that to happen, but that’s a debate that we can have.
Well, what, then, is not appropriate? Let me again suggest three. It is inappropriate to suggest that one should support or oppose a policy only because of certain religious beliefs. Something that must be taken by faith alone does not allow itself to be tested in the free marketplace of ideas, a quality that is essential for democracy to work and for any kind of meaningful public policy debate to take place.
Second, it is never appropriate for candidates to suggest that there is a religious test for holding office. While the Article VI constitutional prohibition limits only the government from setting such religious standards, the spirit of this prohibition should infuse all political statements and policies. Relatedly, candidates should never suggest that their religious beliefs or practices are what qualifies them for office. And this occurs not only when, for instance, Pat Robertson asserts it directly, but also by putting forward their religious beliefs so persistently that they become not a way of explaining who they are, but a political tool, implying that such beliefs are an inherent qualification for office. So to explain that one is a born-again Christian in an interview helps the electorate to understand who the candidate is. To assert it at a prayer breakfast is likewise appropriate. In contrast, to insert that affirmation in every single political speech or debate will widely be understood as suggesting “Vote for me because my belief in Jesus as savior or my religious devotion qualifies me for office.” I’d suggest to you in the last election this was one line that almost every candidate who ran in the primary and general elections for the White House either crossed or came perilously close to crossing.
And finally, candidates should minimize use of divisive and exclusive language. I say minimize because there’s a spectrum. Paradoxically, while some religious language is far less sectarian and divisive than others, all religious language excludes someone. But Americans in the main should not be made to feel like outsiders because of their political leaders’ rhetoric. I suggest to you that that was a problem of Franklin Graham’s Christological invocation and benediction and why it evoked such response. He had a right to do it. I believe the President had a right to ask him to do it. But it made many Americans feel like outsiders. And that is a problem on a political level that the President needs to deal with.
So as long as religious rhetoric is aimed at inspiring the moral conscience of our nation, is inclusive, it’s not transformed into a political tool and it’s not aimed at justifying an agenda that will alter or make America a more religiously intolerant country, then we should celebrate and not fear its presence in our politics and in our electoral campaigns.
How, then, does this apply to “charitable choice?” Just a minute of response. First, both sides — both sides of this debate are equally committed to a robust role of religion in American public life, in social service life. They differ profoundly on how to achieve it and what is best for religion in doing so. The Pew discussions, not just this one, but its continuing forums, provide a unique way to share views from different perspectives and seek to find common ground. There’re two types of social services delivered by the religious community: the voluntary, charitably supported programs of our churches and synagogues and mosques — that is, pervasively sectarian institutions — and the government funded programs combined with charity of our religiously affiliated entities, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Social Ministries, Church World Service, the Jewish federation system. There’re all kind of constitutional ways to work together. And some of this administration deserves credit for offering some revolutionary and visionary new ways of finding ways to work for the government, and even the pervasively sectarian institutions to work together. The only thing that divides us — and don’t mix in all of the other pieces of it — is, should the government directly fund pervasively sectarian entities to provide social services?
Why are many of us concerned and think that’s bad for religion? Why do we feel it might cause the very harm that Senator Lieberman asked about? A), that kind of funding can be corrupting for religion because with government money comes government rules, regulations, restrictions, monitoring, interference. It is not discriminating against religion not to include religion, because only religion in the Constitution is treated differently than everything else. Only religion has an establishment clause. It is a walk keeping government out of religion that’s allowed religion to flourish with a diversity and strength in America unmatched anywhere in the Western democratic world here.
Secondly, dependence on government money is weakening of religion. Should government money be used for widespread discrimination? I think in limited cases it may be appropriate, but not as a widespread program. There will be in real life undue pressures on recipients. We know that. There’s document evidence of that. And the only way to stop it is government intrusion and monitoring. And more than that, it will divert money because the government isn’t talking about a lot of new money. It will take money out of the existing wonderful religious entities — Catholic Charities, et cetera — and now dilute it to 350,000 churches. One-seventh of them will jump in. Fifty thousand of them now asking for grants and programs on government funding. It’s going to dilute and take it away from some of the best, most effective programs in the country.
And finally, the fungibility argument here. You give it to the secular parts of those programs he says won’t cause harm. You free up all this money to then go out and do the religious tasks of these groups we find anathema, even to go out and proselytize our children. Jefferson said it well in a similar taxing scheme 200 plus years ago. To take someone’s money and to deliver it to a group whose views you feel are anathema is sinful and tyrannical. It’s worked for 200 years for us not to do it. Let’s work together and find constitutional ways to achieve our common goals.[Applause.]
AZIZ AL-HIBRI: I want to thank the Pew for providing this wonderful Forum for discussion, a very important and timely subject. As a philosopher, I want to say that I do believe that different people experience the world differently, and I do experience it a little bit differently from the way my friend, David, does, at least in terms of the public square. And I’m more in line with the experience of Senator Lieberman.
After decades of being coy and hesitant, in my view, people of faith have finally given themselves the permission to speak about God and religion in the public square. And I believe that this applies to both the governmental and the non-governmental public square as I have experienced it in the United States. Until then, we have belabored under the myth that a public square from which God was absent was a neutral square; that is, neutral between the secular and the religious.
But God is not just one more item in one’s system of beliefs. Here I try to refute the doughnut theory about the world. To believe in God is to adopt a world view which is significantly different from the secular one. It is to believe in a day of judgment, in the human being as a creature and not an all-powerful superman, and even in miracles. Thus, to take God out of our world view is not just to remove the center — that’s why I called it the doughnut theory — but to shake it and rearrange it into a different world with different premises, consequences and, at times, even different values. Some of these different values are with us today and we do not like them.
Today, in the interest of greater efficiency and productivity in our society, parents who are working long hours do not regularly have dinners with their kids. Lawyers and businessmen work around the clock. This is a firsthand experience I have had, and it really prompted me to change my life style, because my values did not coincide with the values that I found in the public sphere, whether it is in business or in lawyering, et cetera.
By the way, that is not to say that a lot of the lawyers and the businessmen and other types of professionals and workers are not religious people. But it is really to speak about how deep the separation between the private and the public has really affected our lives, to the extent of making some of us schizophrenic. We remember God at home, but at work we lead a totally different kind of life. And new technologies have only accelerated the pressure. The values of competitiveness and winning have been pushed to new levels in which other values, such as compassion and civility — I can throw “courage,” if you want, in — are often absent. But these positive values of compassion and civility, while not unique to religion, are central to it. Faith provides the public arena with a reliable moral compass that has worked for centuries. And our founding fathers fully understood this fact when they protected religious pluralism from the oppressive arm of the state.
The U.S. has never experienced a more vibrant religious pluralism as it does today. This is true. It is true that Muslims and Jews, for example, have been in the U.S. for centuries. Some of us forget this fact. Some of us think that Muslims are recent arrivals in this country. That’s absolutely not true. It is only recently that this diversity began to be celebrated instead of feared and suppressed.
The U.S. has a difficult history with respect to racial and religious diversity. And as with human nature, attitudes change very slowly. Because of this tact, the state must couple its faith-based initiatives with specific safeguards to insure that it is funding good social and humanitarian activities as opposed to intolerance among and within religious communities. And I know a lot of the discussion today focused about the relationship between religious communities and non-religious communities. But I think the real important other half of the discussion is the discussion within the religious communities themselves.
The true significance of the establishment clause is a message of tolerance, not separateness, that no one religious sect should be singled out, whether explicitly or implicitly, directly or indirectly, for state support to the disadvantage of others. In pursuing as we should a faith-based initiative, this message must not be violated. Hence, we need to think hard about situations where, for example, the state finds itself providing extensive support for a religious sect whose leaders are intolerant of religious diversity and actively pursue this policy. I think in the question and answer period earlier today, one example was raised. And I think we need to think hard, because very often we do not understand how values could trickle down into a faith-based service, because it is not obvious. And we can only discover that much later on after we see the effect on the people that it’s supposed to help.
There may be also other challenging scenarios that we have not addressed. And to address them before they develop into real problems the forum can play a major role here. I think what we really need is exactly what the Pew Forum suggests, a real intellectual, thoughtful debate between people of religion and people who do not hold religious beliefs, as well as religious people sitting and talking to each other in a way which goes beyond the usual interfaith dialogue that we have seen. It’s beyond that — “Good, you have a seat at my table. I accept you to this extent. We need to deal with our issues in a much more deep fashion.” I also believe that a special interfaith committee should be officially formed to study potential problems and develop constitutional safeguards, and that our kind of discussion could lay the foundation for sort of the kind of results that they might reach. Otherwise, and this is what has historically really shown itself to be true in other nations and which the founding fathers have tried to guard against — otherwise, religion becomes only one more tool in the human pursuit of power. Religious people are not above using religion as a tool. And we have to really worry about that and ask ourselves how do we safeguard each other’s liberties.
Religion teaches humility. It is, after all, the meek who will inherit the earth. But where are they? [Laughter.] They have been made invisible by the arrogant. So while we cast a critical gaze at our crumbling secular society, let us cast a similar critical gaze at our houses of worship and religious leadership, some of which have been infected with a worldly will to power. We have seen the excesses of a secular society, and we aim to change it. But in changing it, we must change ourselves. We must go beyond calling ourselves people of faith with entitlements in the state to becoming people of faith who truly honor other creatures of God, regardless of their belief or disbelief, and who aim at not winning the battle, but at healing the public square through respect, compassion and genuine civility. And the best place to start this healing process is through genuine and thoughtful interfaith dialogue and cooperation.[Applause.]
REPRESENTATIVE CHET EDWARDS: Good morning. Now you get to the politicians.
I accept as a matter of my faith that religion has a profound impact on our private lives and values and our public life as a nation. But in the spirit of E.J. Dionne and Senator Lieberman, I would like to begin my comments with an observation about a question. I believe the question that faced our founding fathers and that faces us today is not whether we should keep faith out of politics and public life. We cannot and we shall not. But the question is whether we should keep government out of our faith and our religion. I believe the answer to that question is yes. I believe Madison got it right in the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment thereof. And for over two centuries those 16 words enshrined in the Bill of Rights have protected our religious freedom extraordinarily well. In my opinion, our religious freedom in this country is a product of the Bill of Rights, is the crown jewel of our nation’s experiment in democracy.
I would point out that our founding fathers, as we know, were deeply religious, but not once did they mention God in our governing document, our Constitution. It raises the question when Senator Lieberman talks about political parties mentioning God in their national platforms whether we, as politicians, are more interested in looking at God as end to Himself above all other ends or whether we, as politicians, are interested in using God as a means to our own political end.
I believe the fact that our founding fathers left God out of governing document was not an omission by mistake, but an omission by intention. I believe it is no coincidence that the first 16 words of the Bill of Rights were committed to the proposition of keeping government out of personal religious faith.
Our founding fathers answered the question of the proper relationship between government and religion by arguing that religion is so important that it should be enshrined above and beyond the reach of politics. That’s why I reject today’s notion projected by some that somehow the Bill of Rights, by not allowing funding of religious entities, is discrimination against religion. I think Madison would be quite shocked and surprised at that interpretation of his words in the Bill of Rights.
As students of human behavior and human history, Madison and Jefferson understood that, in general, politicians, if allowed, could not withstand the temptation to use religion as a means to our own political ends. If one doubts that wisdom, one only has to look at the lessons of history. Let me point out recent history in the House of Representatives in which I serve. For the past five years, the House leadership, without any committee hearings — without any committee hearings — has forced floor votes on the Istook school prayer constitutional amendment, the posting of the Ten Commandments in our public schools, declaring it is, quote, “The necessary duty of Americans to pray” in a resolution that they pushed under the suspension calendar. And on numerous votes, they forced us to vote on direct federal funding of churches, synagogues, mosques and houses of worship without a single committee hearing, and oftentimes with only ten minutes of debate on an issue so profound that Madison and Jefferson debated it for ten years in the Virginia legislature.
Now, one might well disagree with my position that government should not be directly funding houses of worship or deciding which religious beliefs should and should not be posted on public walls in our public classrooms. But to have no hearings on an issue that is so profound to our nation and our culture, have no hearings before House votes on those profoundly crucial issues, to me it best borders on disrespect of religion and, at worst, borders on blasphemy.
Let me address “charitable choice” not as perhaps conceived by Senator Lieberman, but as has actually passed the House and into law on three occasions and passed the House on several other occasions. I would like to make four observations or express four concerns that I have about that legislation.
First, I think it will be a religious nightmare to have federal agents, including IRS agents, auditing the finances of churches, synagogues and mosques across our land. If accountability of federal tax dollars makes sense for education expenditures, as the President has very eloquently stated, certainly we must have accountability of tens of billions of dollars spent for social programs sent to pervasively sectarian entities. And that is one part of charitable choice that’s often left out of the debate. This is not just a debate over funding 501(c)(3)s. The language that has actually passed into law on three occasions actually allows the direct funding of your tax dollars to pervasively sectarian entities, not just 501(c)(3)s.
My second objection to the “charitable choice” language is that encouraging thousands of churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious groups to compete for tens of billions of dollars of federal money is a prescription for religious strife in America. Only recall five years ago or six years ago in 1995, it was over the question of how to divide up the federal pie that we shut down major parts of the government. Imagine. Project forward ten years from now when thousands of religious groups are competing in the same way over tens of billions of dollars of our tax dollars. If I were maliciously trying to design a federal program to undermine the religious tolerance in America that we have enjoyed for 200 years, I could not think of a better way to do it than to put billions of dollars, almighty dollars on the tax table and let religious groups and entities compete for that.
Third point. Politicians, not Mr. Souder, not Chet Edwards, not Senator Lieberman. We have no business making decisions as to which religious groups meet government criteria for receiving federal funds, any more than we have the right on the Ten Commandments vote to determine which religious doctrine qualifies for government approval to be placed, or doesn’t qualify to be placed on public walls.
Fourth, for the federal government to sanction and subsidize religious discrimination in the hiring of secular jobs through charitable choice language that has already passed the Congress in my opinion is a huge step backwards in our march for civil rights. There is something ironic about subsidizing religious discrimination in an effort that is supposedly intended to stop government discrimination against religion.
Finally, I believe, as I referred to earlier, there is a fundamental flaw in the proposition that has been made by some recently that prohibiting federal funding of religious groups is, in fact, a discriminatory effort against religion. I think Mr. Madison understood, quite to the contrary, that the establishment clause and the free exercise clause are designed precisely out of great reverence for religion and religious faith and religious freedom to the point that they have been and should continue to be placed above the reach of the federal government.
Thank you very much.[Applause.]
REPRESENTATIVE MARK SOUDER: Well, first, let me say that these forums are always helpful for members of Congress because David Brooks gave me at least three good legislative ideas. I really like particularly the politeness foundation. We Republicans are now for civility. Since we’re in control, we want everybody to be nice now and not be so critical, if you noticed a change in tone and how we talk about that.
A couple of different things. And I’m going to focus most narrowly on the faith-based initiatives and charitable choice, because if I start to wander into the broader questions that have been raised here, there’s no way to limit the time.
Let me suggest that the number one reason that we’re talking about faith-based initiatives — and this has been a consistent tone coming from whether it’s former Congressman and Senator Dan Coats, whether it’s been Senator Santorum, President Bush, myself, Joe Pitts, J.C. Watts, no matter who it is, you notice an interesting thing. We’re not talking about the suburban evangelical churches or the fundamentalist rural churches. We’ve been predominately talking about our African-American and Hispanic urban outreach churches. Now, I have a concern as an evangelical that, in fact, many of the suburban and rural churches haven’t taken enough interest in the poverty and those who’ve been left behind. And I, in fact, would like to see those churches become more involved. But the threat perceived by some in the design of this program is not targeted so that those churches can get into the public dollars. They don’t want anything to do with it. They’ve been almost as critical of this effort as have the liberal and moderate factions. This isn’t a Trojan horse, a stalking, a plot by Republicans somehow to get our churches into the government dollars. You don’t see that out in the leaderships, not because it’s a trick, [but] because it’s heart-felt. The people who’ve been leaders in this movement actually are trying to figure out how do we deal with poverty, how do we deal with people who have AIDS and are in a hospice and nobody will fund them. How do we deal with juvenile delinquents who nobody wants to take the dollars to help? It doesn’t matter whether you have Republican governors, Democratic governors, Republican legislators or Democratic legislators. Every government in this country is not increasing the social service expenditures at the rate that needs to be done in order to meet increasing problems. So how do we propose to deal with this? Because the problems are getting greater and the dollars are less.
And one other thing. And I don’t mean this in any arrogant way. Part of the problem here is the traditional structures have the resources and know how to write the grants. The non-traditional structures in the urban centers, or what Bob Woodson calls zip code tests, don’t know how to do that. And whenever we have meetings, generally speaking, you don’t see the people who are at the neighborhood. As one man in Newark told me, I came to Newark and moved in here. He was an older gentlemen. He had been there 20 years, had two nights of vacation in the last 20 years. He said I came and hoping I could save Newark. I came back home. He was from there, the neighborhood. Then it was south Newark, then my neighborhood, then my block. Now if I can get and reach one kid, he said I’m willing to spend 24 hours a day and have my home open for anybody who comes in. How do we get the passion of those people who have a goal beyond their own commitments involved in the public process.
Now, let me suggest several things regarding this. First off, the current law is very clear. The Supreme Court interpretations are very clear. You can’t fund proselytizing. As Senator Lieberman said, if proper protections are in place and the money can’t be used for proselytizing and there are secular alternatives for beneficiaries to opt into and no one is coerced, what in the end is the harm? I know what the benefits are, but what is the harm?
Well, in fact, that’s constitutional law. We’ve debated this multiple times on the House floor, passing several that didn’t become law, some that are law. Let me give you some illustrations of what this actual debate means.
Housing is where the faith-based organizations were initially most involved. And I mentioned AIDS and homelessness for a particular reason. Way back under Reagan and Bush, you saw the first faith-based direct grants that were not contested in the public arena because nobody would help. Particularly in the early days of the AIDS panic, other groups were unwilling to take a risk they thought on themselves other than people who had an altruistic motive. And so all of a sudden, you saw HUD reaching out and giving grants directly to church organizations to deal, and nobody hollered. Nor did they in housing when they reached out for the homeless. Then the first real controversy to hit Congress was in welfare reform. Then we’ve moved through juvenile justice, through drug and alcohol abuse programs, to after-school programs, the social service block grant bill and the National Fatherhood Initiative, just to name some.
Now, we have different standards, and you’ll see the White House evolve their position too, because when you talk about it initially, you act like there’s one — not you in particular — but anybody, like there’s one-size-fits-all. Each program is different. Clearly, there’s a ban on proselytizing, including gimmicks. For example, if you only have one choice, the tightest rules that I’ve taken were on the amendment, and I’ve been the sponsor of most of these amendments, I think all but one in the House, that the amendment on an after-school program has the tightest restrictions. Bobby Scott, who’s a friend of mine who’s very concerned about the constitutional principles, and we’ve worked this through. It doesn’t mean he supports what I did, but he understands the lines.
For example, if it’s a school that got a grant and it’s the only program in that neighborhood, they cannot discriminate on recipients, period, nor they can proselytize at all, because there’s only one grant in that community. So we had restrictions. For example, you can’t say that you’re going to have a prayer at 2:30 and start the program at 2:33. No gimmicks. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have a prayer service, that you can’t do other religious things if it’s a Catholic center, for example. But it does mean there has to be a firewall between the government program and the religious program, both to protect the church and the state.
Now, if it is something where there are alternate programs, then, in fact, you can have a religious component, such as in drug abuse, if there are multiple options available to the individual, or in welfare reform. Then there are things that are matters of degree in between.
Now, let me give you a concrete example. In my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, the housing authority has given a grant for the housing partnership to the Black Ministerial Alliance. We have the second and third lowest income housing tracts in the state of Indiana. We’ve had 50 to 100 that were actively abandoned homes being used as crack houses. The Black Ministerial Alliance made a bid to be the agent to be able to make the housing partnership decisions and the housing decisions. They can’t discriminate on who they serve. They can’t proselytize with that grant. They also received a grant, a pilot project grant from the Justice Department where they are working with an academy where African-American ministers and Hispanic ministers in the inner city part of Fort Wayne are meeting with the suburban and rural pastors and working together of how we’re going to deal with crime in the city. There they aren’t proselytizing. They’re predominantly people who are already actively interested. But clearly they’re talking about faith in the process.
They also have in that area a housing redevelopment grant that we got through, a community development grant. Once again, they can’t discriminate in who is eligible for the grant. We also have an anti-drug abuse grant that is predominately non-religious, but has one subpart of it that’s a voluntary component from one participant in the coalition that has a religious option. But there are other options if you don’t choose the religious option in that component of the anti-drug abuse.
This is a complex question. But those of us who’ve been active in this for years understand the difference here when the Supreme Court said the computer itself is not a religious vehicle; the content inside the computer is. And what we have to be very careful about is not to subsidize the proselytizing or force religion down anybody’s throats, but allow the fact that many people find this as a motivating power that can help reach the poor and expand our ability to help those who are hurting in this country. And it appalls me that in the name of Madison and of Hamilton that we would try to stop that when, in fact, without getting into a broader debate, they funded programs that were religious-based from the very beginning, including the actual printing of Bibles with the Congress’s name stamped in the Bibles for distribution in the schools, and they wanted the Wycliffe translation, not the King James’. I’m not proposing that. And if we say we’ve evolved, we can say we’ve evolved. But let’s not wrap ourselves falsely in how they separated us in the beginning, because we’ve become actually more pluralistic, not less pluralistic.[Applause.]
MS. ELSHTAIN: Thank you very much. I think it’s fair to say that the key issues have all been joined. I’m going to open it up for questions, if the panelists will forbear, rather than to give them an opportunity to respond immediately to one another.
The gentleman right here. And if you would, if you have a specific person on the panel to direct your question to, by all means do that. But everyone is free to respond. Go ahead, please.
Q: I’m Nathan Diament with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations.
I have a question for Congressman Edwards and it relates to the discussion about where we are in the public square and discrimination or not with regard to religion. Just yesterday, the Supreme Court heard an argument in a case which wasn’t about putting money on the table, but was about whether if a public school opens its facilities after hours to all sorts of social and civics groups, the Boy Scouts and what have you, a Christian youth group applied to have its meetings in a classroom on the same terms as all the other groups. And the children were only able to go there and attend this meeting if they got a permission slip signed by their parents.
So the question before the court and the debate and the argument back and forth was, is this discrimination against religion if we say every other kind of social, civic and community group can come in and use classrooms after hours, exception for religious ones? And without getting into, you know, what I thought the justices were arguing, I’m curious to know where you think we are on this issue if we have to go all the way to the Supreme Court to even have that discussion and what your views are and how that might relate to the issues we’ve discussed this morning.
REPRESENTATIVE EDWARDS: Well, I’ll try to be brief. I think it’s appropriate the U.S. Supreme Court is the final authority on decisions of interpreting the meaning of the Bill of Rights. And clearly there’re areas that are gray and not always clearly delineated. But the discussion that I will be interested to see is not the one that will occur in the Supreme Court. It will be the discussion that will occur in rural southern America when you have 2,000 different religious groups coming into hundreds of schools wanting to have their programs after school. It was only this week that Pat Robertson expressed vehement opposition to the Unification Church and others coming into public schools. All of a sudden those who thought the idea of school prayer coming in over the PA system was such a great idea are having questions about other religious faiths coming into those public schools.
And my ultimate fear of respecting whatever the Supreme Court decision is is that whether it’s this or in the competition for money, you’re going to have just hundreds, if not thousands of religious groups competing with each other, you know, for federal resources and public resources. And I think that’s going to create religious dissension in America.
I do believe, if you let one religious group go into a public classroom, you must let all. And let Mr. Robertson and others be aware that the definition of religion, according to IRS guidelines, is a very, very broad one.
MS. ELSHTAIN: Congressman?
REPRESENTATIVE SOUDER: …And I believe that you have to have equal access. But absolutely, Christians who oppose access of other groups are in violation of the religious liberty clause of the United States. If you allow one in, you allow them all in, and it has to be fair. Same thing goes for grants. And they need to understand that.
MS. ELSHTAIN: Many hands. Yes, the gentleman in the back. I think I saw your hand next.
Q: Good afternoon. Or morning, whatever it is, everyone. Congressman Souder, I truly appreciate your comments and your recognition of the fact that many African-American and Latino churches have demonstrated the willingness, but very often lack capacity. My question is, of the proposal submitted now by this administration, how do you feel about a technical capacity component to which to my knowledge now hasn’t been verbalized as much? One of the fears from some African-American pastors that historically they haven’t been at the table and the recipient of those funds. So now, as you speak of the expansion of the allowance of more groups to apply for that money, will we still be passed over again?
Mr. SOUDER: Thank you for your question. And clearly, this is all at the formative stages. But there are several things that are being discussed internally and that is how you can get grass-roots incubator places so that those people who are out doing it and don’t know how to write the grants can have the capacity to come in, review their proposals, and have somebody assist them. That’s part of this foundation idea that goes out and provides that service for the people who are activists, rather than grant writers.
Another way to do this is to have a portion of this be the zip code test, and that is, the most effective groups that I’ve seen in urban centers all over America are people who live in the neighborhood and often there are many people who want to figure out how to get the grant come in and, as I’ve heard from people on the street, they can tell who they are. They often have a clipboard. They’ve actually dressed down. And then they head back out to the suburbs. But they’ve got the grant money. Part of this grant money should go directly to people who live in the neighborhoods and are there for access after hours. Because many of the problems occur after hours. And as we look at how to do those type of things, our goal with this is to make sure the money gets in the hands of those who have the commitment and the earnestness and the involvement in the community and haven’t had the resources to do it.
MS. ELSHTAIN: Rabbi Saperstein, you wanted to respond?
MR. SAPERSTEIN: Let me – let me make a proposal, since you’re looking for proposals. I want to – I’m very taken – that was, I have to say, one of the most helpful presentations on behalf of the “charitable choice” vision that I have heard. You really laid out a challenge to us. I want to address it with one idea, picking up on what you just said. Let me suggest with the inner city churches what you could do that would be constitutional. Because this administration has to reach a decision. Either it goes with a broad array of things it can do that could unify America and take all of us who agree on this and move us forward together, or it puts direct funding of pervasively sectarian institutions into the mix and it knows it will have one of the most painful, divisive debates that we’ve had in a long time around religious issues in America. It has to go one way or the other.
So I want to accept your challenge. Here’s my proposal. In the same way that you suggested there would be an office set up to help people write grants, the argument about why not doing C-3s is it’s too complicated very often for churches to set up. They don’t know how to do it. They don’t know how to run it. Once it’s up and running, it’s actually fairly simple. It’s the getting it up and running that’s hard.
So take an inner city black church. It runs four programs. A literacy program to help kids in the schools, surrounding schools, right in their immediate area. They have a place to go after school to help them with their homework. And then, secondly, it has a program to shelter homeless people. And third, it feeds hungry people. And fourth, it has a drug rehabilitation program. Three of those programs can easily be done under a C-3 where it would not have to discriminate who you hire, where you won’t have religious content as part of those programs, but you will feed people and shelter people and teach them how to read and write here.
Why doesn’t the government, as part of this program, set up a program not just to help with grants, but to help any group that wants to apply set up the C-3 process if they’re unable to do it themselves. And make it possible – what that will do is to take all of the money that has now been saved by the church for those secular programs under the C-3 and free it up to run that drug rehabilitation problem. You’ve answered their resource problem, you’re answered the constitutional problem, and you can keep the country together as a whole.
Those are the kind of creative solutions that we ought to be looking for and not go past the line of into this debate that will divide America on this one major piece of it, rather than keep us together on the other vast parts of the program.
MS. ELSHTAIN: Anyone else on the panel want to respond on the danger of dividing America? Or should we turn to another question from the – shall we go to the audience? Hand? Right here. Yes.
Q: My name is Lea Fantuzo, and I’m a college student at the University of Pennsylvania. I have a question, basically, on the word “faith” which I think is one of the most broad words you could have. And I think the university has a definition, I, personally, have a definition. When are we going to come up with a definition of the word “faith” so that we all understand what we’re talking about? Because I think the pioneers you talked about had a very different definition and at the same time, how are we going to work for conflict resolution once the definitions conflict?
MS. ELSHTAIN: So, as in “faith-based?” You’re concerned with how “faith” is understood? That seems to be an issue raised by a number of people already. Azizah, did you have a response to that?
MS. AL-HIBRI: I always, as a feminist who does not believe in imposing one world view over everybody else, I always hesitate to say “this is the definition of faith.” Because faith means different things to different people. And while some definitions might look very different to us, maybe on second thought, maybe in a few years, we’ll come to that point.
So my feeling is, let a hundred flowers bloom. Everybody could use their definitions, so long as we are all informed about what we are thinking. In other words, we should not be caught in a linguistic trap, but that’s part of the dialogue. When you say “faith”, what does it mean to you? And when I say “faith”, what does it mean? And how can we therefore go beyond the word to find a meeting place of minds that will allow us to solve our problems? That’s the way I would approach it so that nobody would feel strait-jacketed in our society.
MS. ELSHTAIN: Anybody else on the panel want to respond to that? Shall we go to another – go ahead, Congressman Edwards.
MR. EDWARDS: I just want to complement you. I think that question goes to the core of some of our concerns. And my concern is to have politicians, in all due respect to Mark and me, helping define what’s a true faith and what’s not a true faith. The very essence of the Bill of Rights is, you know, we should not be put in that position. It is up to each individual American citizen to determine what is and is not a faith. But in the real world, let me remind some of the conservative religions that they’ve been pushing this new faith-based federal funding that, you know, Wickens, along with many other groups will be defined in the board sense, I guess, under the guidelines, as a faith. And as long as they accepted that, it’s fine.
Mark, my concern is that the first person to object when the Wiccans had decided to have a service, religious service around the flagpole in my district near Fort Hood, it was Bob Barr who had pushed school prayer in our public schools who was the first to scream and say “I didn’t mean those guys!” [Laughter] You asked a fundamentally important question. I want to complement you.
MS. ELSHTAIN: David?
MR. BROOKS: Just in response to that. I mean, there are many kinds of faith. Some would say Marxism has a faith and why should hey get federal money and people who put their faith in God don’t get federal money. But the way the word seems to apply in the government is anything eternal. And it seems to me the essential difference between – like the federal deficit. [Laughter] It seems to me the essential difference between where you come out on this issue is what you see as the essential threat to America. Is it a lack of religious faith, as you talked about people who are busy and who need something to lift them above the world of e-mail. Mark talked about in Fort Wayne the people in the crack houses. Is their essential problem that there is not enough stress on the eternal verities in their life? Or is there a problem that there’s too much sectarianism or the threat of religious sectarianism? And when David describes the world, I almost get the sense – you describe a world where we’re impinged by religious fanatics who are the main threat to our lives. Whereas my view and the people that support this, our view is that the main threat to our world and to the virtues that we admire is that the lack of religion and we’re willing to tolerate a little fanaticism to get a little more religion. [Laughter] And that is, essentially, the fundamental divide between pro and con in this.
MS. ELSHTAIN: We have time for one more question and I see a hand over here.
Q: This actually goes back to something Rabbi Saperstein said and on the broader religion and public life issue of how is the juncture of religion and public life affected when religious groups come at it as – the random priest or bishop who says “if you don’t vote for this candidate” or “if you vote for this candidate, that’s a sin.” Or the Christian Coalition voter guides that make it imply that you have a religious duty to vote a certain way. What sort of an effect do the rest of you see that having on the overall collaboration of the two?
MS. ELSHTAIN: The question of political advocacy from the pulpit, in effect, is what you’re talking about, which, of course, happens all the time. Most notably, in African-American churches. We have good evidence on that and that’s an essential part, often, of the church activity to talk about the way in which the faith commitments move over into strong political commitments. So clearly, it’s done all the time — now, without violating some sort of constitutional norm. So when does, I take the burden of your question to be, when does some constitutional norm get threatened and is that constitutional norm wise? Yes, Rabbi Saperstein?
MR. SAPERSTEIN: I’ll take a crack at it, but I’d like to hear my other colleagues, as well, here. I talked about what were some of the rules about what was appropriate – not legal or illegal – appropriate and inappropriate for political leaders to do. You can also have the same discussion what’s appropriate and inappropriate, not legal or illegal, or constitutional and unconstitutional for religious groups to do in politics. You’ve raised one issue. I think a central role for religion in American life is to be a moral goad to the conscience of the country. I said that before. I think we have to do everything possible to allow it and facilitate it to play that role.
I think what is bad in religious communities’ involvement is when it tries to use religious authority to try and prevent people from voting their conscience in the voting booth. On this level, let me just give you two examples of drawing the line. When the Lubavicher Rabbi instructed his people in an authoritarian system in 1980 to vote for Ted Kennedy, as much as I liked the outcome of the result of that instruction, I think that was a clear violation of what was a appropriate. Now, there may be a legal problem about tax exemption with the black churches and with what he did. Let me put that aside. In terms of, though, what’s good in terms of the partnership, I think that that was wrong.
When Umberto Cardinal Madeiros, in 1978, issued a pastoral letter saying it is a sin for a Catholic to vote for a candidate that supports a right of abortion, raising the prospect, back in those days, you’d have to go to confession to ask for forgiveness for voting for Barney Frank at that point, I believe that that was inappropriate. It tried to evoke religious authority on the personal behaviors. And the formal position of the bishops has always been you don’t do that. When you go into the voting booth, you vote your conscience. So I can trace that with what John Cardinal O’Connor always did. He used to say “I don’t understand how a Catholic in good conscience can vote for a candidate who supports abortion.” I think that was on the other side of the line. He was being a moral pastor to his people, but not invoking religious discipline, religious authority, the threats of religious sanction for what they were doing, but being a moral goad. I think that’s the formal position of the Catholic church, as I understand it, to be that goad, but have people vote their conscience.
So that’s how I would draw the line. No imposition of religious authority, discipline, sanction for the political decisions that people make, but religious leaders always trying to be a moral goad to the country at large and to the conscience of their followers.
MS. ELSHTAIN: Professor al-Habri?
MS. AL-HABRI: Yeah, I’d like to answer this from the experience of the Muslim community. There have been Imams around this country who, at one point or the other, expressed their views, whether on the voting process or on specific candidates. Because Islam does not have a central authority, because everybody in Islam has a direct relationship with God, then if an Imam ever says that, and they have, you simply ask them what is the basis of their judgment? They have to justify it. And you have to like the reasoning. And if you don’t, well, Muslims have disagreed on their jurisprudence for over, you know, a thousand years. So it’s not a problem.
So, the mere fact that these incidents happen only serve to elevate the discussion in the Muslim community and raise the political and the religious consciousness, and I might add, religion is not for sissies. [Laughter]
MS. ELSHTAIN: On that note, I’m going to turn it over to my colleague and co-chair, E.J. Dionne, to bring this morning’s events to a close. E.J.?
MR. DIONNE: Thank you very, very much, Jean. That was a great discussion. When Luis Lugo and I started talking about this, Luis was talking about what this organization would be and I’m somebody who’s written for newspapers all my life and love doing that, and it suddenly occurred to me that the Pew Forum was a living op-ed page. That sounds like one of those federal arts projects out of the thirties, but where we would not sort of seek some sort of empty, mushy consensus, but would actually bring together people of very strong views and convictions to have civil exchanges on these subjects and civility is not a sign of weakness, I think, as we saw in the discussion today.
I just want to make a couple of quick points. One, I appreciated David Brooks quoting Abraham Lincoln: “Life is about self-improvement.” I feel self-improved today. Thanks to this entire panel. On Florida, by the way, David made a theological error in distinguishing between blind faith and a concern for truth [Laughter], but he’ll think I just proved his point, after all.
I was struck very much – I appreciated the Rabbi Saperstein’s proposal on C-3s. And what’s interesting about that is it resembles a lot what Steve Goldsmith did in Indianapolis with his Front Porch Alliance, where he was trying to give assistance to small, faith-based and other community-based institutions, often simply to help them find private foundation money. And I think there is some interesting potential common ground there.
I think Professor al-Hibri’s point about a vibrant religious pluralism and our appreciation of it is so important. I mean, in a sense, to use a much over-used term, “We are the world.” America now – we not only have Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Muslims, we have Janes and Buddhists and Hindus and representatives of every faith tradition in the world. And if we don’t figure out how to get this right, I think the world will be disappointed in us and we will have missed an opportunity.
And I want to thank Chet Edwards and Mark Souder for this very powerful exchange. Chet Edwards, as I have heard him do before, presented a very, very powerful, principled, separationist case. And I must say, Chet has raised in my mind over the years a very important question which I think we need to deal with more in this area, which is the difference between how these programs look in highly pluralist, metropolitan areas where people will have many choices and where many of the possibilities that Congressman Souder talks about are actually possible, versus areas where there are clear religious majorities, where members of religious minorities may have different challenges and problems. And I think that’s something I hope we deal with. But I also appreciated Congressman Souder’s talk about meeting human needs and that this debate is very much about meeting human needs.
Lastly, the student who asked the question on what is faith? Mary Jo Bane, a professor at Harvard who is very involved in this discussion, once asked “do you want a bureaucrat writing regulations defining what a religion is?” And I realized today, thanks to Chet Edwards, we know that the IRS has already written those regulations.
And lastly, I want to close with this. Professor al-Hibri said that we must protect each other’s liberty and I think that, paradoxically, preserving individual freedom is a communal enterprise and that is the communal enterprise in which we’re engaged. This enterprise wouldn’t be possible with Pew, Rebecca Rimel, Luis Lugo, Kimon Sargeant, Barbara Beck. Or without our staff, Melissa Rogers, Amy Sullivan, Andrea McDaniel, Andrew Witmer, and Ming Hsu. And I’ve got to give a special thank you to Staci Simmons, without whom this organization wouldn’t exist. When we started, it was a two-person operation, myself and Staci and you know who was the organized, smart person in that office. [Laughter] And so, thank you to Staci.
Thank you all and please join us again.[APPLAUSE AND END OF EVENT.]