Friday, December 18, 2009

Outrageous Breach of Wall of Separation as Rabbis Urge Lieberman to Support Health Care Reform

12/18/2009—I’m only kidding with that title. But why am I not going to see secularists upset over the involvement by these religious leaders in the healthcare fight?

What happened is that 29 Connecticut rabbis wrote to Senator Joe Lieberman to urge him to reconsider his position on health care reform. Rabbi Carl Astor was quoted in the story in The Day that “taking care of those in need is…one of the basic tenets…of the Jewish religion” and that Lieberman is “an observant Jew.”

Now, how is this any different from the role of the Catholic Bishops in trying to shape the health care bill in the House? It isn’t. But then we heard about how religious leaders were imposing their religion on the rest of us in violation of the separation of church and state. We won’t hear a word about that in this instance.

The difference of course is that separation complaints come from the left and the left, including me, wants Lieberman to support the bill in the Senate. We don’t care where the pressure comes from as long as it works.

Religion is one of the background commitments that motivate political behavior. It is not illegitimate in a democracy. The democratic requirement is simply that political leaders are upfront about their commitments so the voters know ahead of time.


  1. I'm one of the 29 rabbis who signed. In fact I helped draft the letter.

    Here's how it's different from the bishops: we're not threatening to punish Lieberman because he doesn't vote the way we want him to. We're not challenging his religious commitments or bona fides, we're just attempting to sway him using argumentation from our common religious language.

    The bishop of Rhode Island denied Rep. Kennedy communion. That goes beyond suasion to punishment. It's a big difference.

    Neither one is a violation of the First Amendment, as you know. The First Amendment restricts government action, not the actions of clergy or religious organizations.

    But there's still a big difference between what we did and what Bishop Tobin did.

  2. Rabbi Arian:

    Regular readers of this blog were aware that the title of the blog entry your were referring to was a spoof on hyper secularists who criticized the Catholic Bishops in regard to the health care debate and who would, if they were consistent, criticize you as well. (They won't do so only because they happen to agree with you on the merits.) The fact that you argued from shared religious commitments is the problem, from their point of view. As a hallowed secularist, I welcome your involvement in the political arena. And, as a long-time friend of Joe Lieberman, I hope you had some success.