Lieberman Can See Nation of Islam in Faith-based Program; ADL Differs

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and the Anti-Defamation League once again find themselves at odds over the Nation of Islam. A week after the ADL urged the Bush administration to blacklist the Nation of Islam from President Bush’s new faith-based initiative program, Lieberman said the group should not be disqualified because of the offensive comments its leaders have made.

Speaking Thursday in Washington at the opening of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Lieberman told a questioner that the Nation of Islam would have to be considered for participation on its merits, just like other service providers.

“I wouldn’t say no” just “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,” he said.

Calling it a hate group, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman responded Thursday that Lieberman was “seriously mistaken” about the Nation of Islam.

“This organization has for years, and has continued, to promote hate and separatism,” Foxman said. “It’s unfortunately part of their being.”

ADL leaders met with John DiIulio Jr., director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, about the issue last month. They said DiIulio “showed great understanding and sensitivity” to the organization’s concerns.

The Nation of Islam did not respond to requests for comment.

Bush sparked controversy last year when he said the Nation of Islam is based on universal principles, and therefore should be allowed to compete for government funding.

He later retracted his statement, saying he confused the Nation of Islam with the larger Muslim faith.

In a letter to the ADL a year ago, Bush explained his confusion and said he was familiar with the “history of hateful and anti-Semitic comments” by Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam’s leader.

The ADL was one of a group of Jewish organizations that criticized Lieberman when, as the Democratic candidate for vice president last year, he planned to hold a meeting with Farrakhan. The meeting never materialized.

The ADL also criticized Lieberman for referring frequently to God in his campaign speeches.

In his talk Thursday, Lieberman said he supports charitable choice but cautioned that Bush “has fallen short” on explaining the details of his plan and how it will avoid violating the constitutional separation of church and state.

“This is one case where the devil really is in the details,” Lieberman said.

Lieberman said several major questions remain about the program, specifically whether charitable choice programs should receive the exemption from non-discrimination in hiring that religious programs enjoy, and whether safeguards will be implemented to keep federally-funded programs from proselytizing.

Lieberman also said Bush has not defined what constitutes a religious group, and asked whether Americans would be comfortable having federal dollars going to the Hare Krishnas or the Church of Scientology.

But he also asked what harm there is in social programs with religious overtones.

“Does society have more to fear from a rehabilitated drug addict who has broken his habit through a religion-based treatment program than the untreated drug addict?” Lieberman asked.

Lieberman said most Americans want religion to play a larger role in society, but do not think people should force their faith upon others.

“When we make our case to skeptics, our language must be precise and the laws and programs we develop to harness the best forces of faith must be tight,” he said. “We are not calling for government endorsement of religion.”

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