Mixing Politics and Faith in the White House Faith-based initiatives, school vouchers -- and now the Harriet Miers nomination. President Bush speaks often about the role of religion in his life, and translates that into public policy. We discuss religion and politics.
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Mixing Politics and Faith in the White House

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Mixing Politics and Faith in the White House

Mixing Politics and Faith in the White House

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Two weeks ago President Bush said that Harriet Miers' religion was a factor in his decision to nominate her to be the--to join the Supreme Court. There was a time when politicians in public service kept their faith to themselves and religion at arm's distance. Remember John F. Kennedy, our first Catholic president? He needed to show that he was not an instrument of the Vatican. Times have changed since then. Today politicians no longer hide their faith; many flaunt it. President Bush has said that he speaks with God.

The last presidential election made it clear that one could not run for president without showing that he is--he or she is a churchgoing man or woman of faith. But in a country of many faiths, you could ask: What does one's faith have to do with the job? On the other hand, could one's faith help shape decisions? This hour we want to examine the role of a public servant's religion and how it could shape the public's fear. What role did religion play in your job? How does it shape your decisionmaking on the job? We'd be especially interested in hearing from those of you who are public servants, teachers and whatnot. Our number is (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. Our e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

Joining us today are three men of strong personal faith who are also former or current lawmakers. John Danforth served nearly 19 years in Congress as a Republican senator from Missouri. He's also an Episcopal priest. Thomas Tancredo is presently Republican congressman from Colorado. He's an evangelical Presbyterian who converted from Catholicism and has been outspoken about his faith. And Senator Joseph Lieberman is a Jewish Orthodox and a Democratic senator from the state of Connecticut. His faith became quite public when he ran as the vice presidential running mate with Al Gore in the year 2000 and as a Democratic candidate for president in 2004. We'll talk about how each--we'll talk to each about how they balance personal faith and their office. Again, if you'd like to join us, (800) 989-8255; e-mail is totn@npr.org.

We turn first to former Senator Danforth. He was also former US ambassador to the United Nations. He's currently a partner in the law firm of Bryan Cave LLP. He's with us now from his office in St. Louis.

And, Senator, nice to have you on the program.

Former Senator JOHN DANFORTH (Republican, Missouri): Oh, good to be with you.

CONAN: First of all, as a fellow Republican, what did you think of the president's admission that Harriet Miers' religion was a factor in his nomination of her to the Supreme Court?

Mr. DANFORTH: Well, it can't be. I think they have a--well, first of all, under our Constitution, religious tests for holding office are not permitted, but secondly, and even more important, you can't have somebody who is viewed as the representative of one particular political point of view on the Supreme Court. Now I--from what I know of Harriet Miers, I think she should be confirmed, but certainly not as being a representative of one particular religious point of view.

CONAN: Are you concerned that having said that, her religious faith is now gonna become the subject of--or the religious faith of any judicial nominee after this is gonna become the subject of Senate confirmation hearings?

Mr. DANFORTH: I think it would be a mistake if it is because Supreme Court justices, judges in general have a different kind of a job. I mean, their job is not to proselytize. Their job is not to try to put across one particular religious perspective. Their job is to interpret the law, and to do that for all the people of our country and to do it faithfully to the law, not faithfully to their religion.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. As someone with a probably unique experience as both a priest and a politician, I wonder--I know you've thought about this extensively and also you've been lecturing on this topic of late. What, in your mind, is the proper--is there a line between--of course someone's faith is gonna shape their character, their values, how they think, but how do you carry it out into public service?

Mr. DANFORTH: Well, you bring to public service the totality of who you are or the kind of person you are, and your religion certainly, certainly shapes that. But I think one of the messages of religion has to be a message of humility, and that is that all of us are attempting to be faithful people in whatever work we do, but we don't have a monopoly on God's truth. God's truth is different than our comprehension of it, and it's not the stuff of a particular political agenda. So I think the problem is when people think that they can encapsulate God in a political agenda and they lose all sense of humility and become very self-righteous in doing that. And when that happens, religion becomes very divisive.

On the other hand, if you understand that all of us see through a glass darkly or, as Isaiah said, God's way is not our way, then that brings into political discourse a degree of humility which I think tends to make it possible for people to agree to disagree, and to move forward with the process of American democracy.

CONAN: Your experience as an Episcopalian was certainly no secret when you were running for Senate. Did you ever have people throw that face, or how could you as a good Episcopalian then vote for this bill or that bill?

Mr. DANFORTH: No, I really didn't. I mean, people--I certainly didn't hide it from people. People knew who I was and what I was. On the other hand, they elected me to be their senator. They didn't elect me to be their clergyman. So it's just an entirely different role and people knew that.

CONAN: Religion and politics play a role in many people's lives. We're asking our listeners to call in and tell us about how it affects theirs, where they draw the line: (800) 989-8255. Steve is with us now. He's calling from the road in Minnesota.

Nice to have you on the program, Steve.

STEVE (Caller): Nice to be here. Thank you very much for having me.

CONAN: Go ahead.

STEVE: Well, I'm a pharmacist, and I feel that religion, good moral solid basis, can only benefit any job or any profession, and especially in politics I feel that, you know, a good course of action and a good basis is instrumental, I feel, in good governing.

CONAN: Yet in terms--you're a pharmacist?

STEVE: Yes, sir.

CONAN: We've recently had controversy about the so-called morning-after pill and some pharmacists feeling that that is a violation of their good conscience, their religious faith and that they shouldn't be forced to provide that to young women.

STEVE: Yeah, absolutely, and that's something that is their right to choose not to dispense. Some--you know, you'll find argument or discussion on that either way. Something that I feel strongly about as an individual morally, religion aside, you know, it's a moral decision as well.

CONAN: Senator Danforth, I wonder if you'd thought about that problem that has been presented to many pharmacists across the country.

Mr. DANFORTH: I really have to say I really haven't thought about that. I understand what you've been saying, but that has not been exactly on my screen.

CONAN: There have been other people who are saying that in many parts of the country there may be only one pharmacy in town or difficult to get access to this. Of course, if you don't get it fairly quickly, the whole point is moot, and that pharmacists, well, if a doctor prescribes it, they ought to sell it.

Mr. DANFORTH: You know, I think that people have to make their own decisions and people in their own lines of work about how they're gonna pursue their work and follow their own consciences. What I've been trying to focus on has to do more with government and politics and the relationship between religion and government and doing the work of government. And I think that there it's, as the caller said when he--in his original comment, you certainly want good people in government and in public service. The problem becomes when a religious agenda becomes a political agenda, and that's where I think we should draw the line.

CONAN: Steve, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it.

STEVE: Sure. Thanks a lot for having me.

CONAN: And, Senator Danforth, I wanted to wind up with you by asking if there was one moment or one decision that you look back on during your time in office that you had to make regarding both your faith and your responsibilities as a public servant?

Mr. DANFORTH: Oh, you know, I think that my religion had--I mean, my sort of general way of approaching things did have an effect. I mean, I was--for example, I was very interested in world hunger. I made a trip to Thailand and the border of Cambodia in the late '70s and again to Africa in the mid-80s, but I really tried not to be the kind of pastor of the Senate or the religious representative in the Senate, and I think that on almost...

CONAN: Did...

Mr. DANFORTH: ...every issue you can think of, there are two points of view from--at least two points of view from people who are very religious people. So I think it's difficult to say with any degree of honesty, `Gee, I know God's will and I've got that all worked out in the political scheme.'

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line, and this is Kelly. Kelly calling us from San Jose, California.

KELLY (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking the call.

CONAN: Sure.

KELLY: I just wanted to talk about my experience as a prosecutor, where I spent most of my career, and how my religious views affected my job. I'm Catholic and don't believe in the death penalty, so I never sought to go in the homicide unit because in our office, if you go in the homicide unit, you are expected to prosecute death penalty cases, and it was something that I felt that I could never do. Additionally, I think it does affect--your religious views do affect how you work, for example, in matters like sentencing recommendations, probation hearings, I think it's impossible to view a person's life without looking at it through not just the law but everything that you're bringing to it as well and sort of the human aspects of it which, of course, are impacted by one's religious views.

CONAN: I wonder, Kelly, in that respect, did you feel that you were, in that respect, restricted by your faith?

KELLY: To some extent, yes, because I think prosecuting homicides definitely has its place, and I would have liked to have done that, but by the same token, I also feel that by taking a stand on certain issues and not doing certain things, perhaps you can affect social change on a larger scale. If everybody operated by their conscience or your religious views or whatever you want to call it, then maybe there wouldn't be too many people who'd actually want to prosecute those kinds of cases, as an example.

CONAN: Senator Danforth, a candidate's willingness to enforce the death penalty, despite personal conviction, that's come up again in the current governor's race in the state of Virginia, and it's not uncommon in other parts of the country as well.

Mr. DANFORTH: No. I had that in my own life, as a matter of fact, because I, too, oppose the death penalty and voted against it when I was in the Senate and then, you know, explained it to the people of Missouri that I had thought that it was not a good thing to do, that I didn't think that it deterred crime, for one thing. However, before I went to the Senate, I was state attorney general, and our office tried cases where we sought the death penalty. And my view of that was that I was the attorney general, I was not a member of the state Legislature. The Legislature had passed the law. It was my duty to enforce the law.

So I think you do bring to whatever job you're doing a point of view, and the point of view certainly includes whatever your religious perspective is. I just think that there--you have to try to also recognize that you're part of a broader system, which encompasses all of the people of your constituency, all of the people of the country, and it's very, very presumptuous to try to view yourself as, you know, I'm God's agent in this particular job, trying to manipulate everything according to my own view of God's will, which may or may not be God's will.

KELLY: And I don't disagree with that. I think in a situation like the one I had, you just have to choose to step aside from something so that the law can be followed if your personal convictions will conflict with the law.

CONAN: Kelly, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

KELLY: Thank you.

CONAN: And, Senator Danforth, we thank you for your time today.

Mr. DANFORTH: Thank you.

CONAN: John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, former senator from Missouri, currently a partner in the law firm Bryan Cave LLP, and he joined us by phone from his office in St. Louis, Missouri.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Representative Thomas Tancredo is a Republican congressman from Colorado. He converted to evangelical Presbyterian from Catholicism, and he joins us now from Omaha, Nebraska. And, Congressman, nice to have you back on TALK OF THE NATION.

Representative THOMAS TANCREDO (Republican, Colorado): It's a pleasure.

CONAN: In your opinion, going back to the president's comments that Harriet Miers' religion was part of the reason that he nominated her to the Supreme Court of the United States, should that be a factor?

Rep. TANCREDO: Well, it can certainly enter into his decision-making process. Whether or not it is an important determination for a senator to make during the hearing, that's a--you know, it's a different thing. Their responsibility would probably be based more specifically on her qualifications, but in terms of what the president is looking for, I mean, it's his choice, his--by the way, I don't support her, so it's not as if I'm here to advocate for her. But in terms of his--the things that go into his decision-making process, I think it's appropriate.

CONAN: Now you've been outspoken about your faith, but I wonder in terms of being a politician who represents a big district, all kinds of people, are there positions that you take or bills that you vote for that, well, you might consider violations of your faith?

Rep. TANCREDO: I cannot tell you that any come to mind. I know that I have done things in Congress as a result of a perspective that I have in terms of my relationship to God. I mean, I know that that is true. And I certainly would not try to deny it. In fact, one of the reasons--when I came into Congress, I know that I had not too long before that been very affected by something I saw at my church about the situation in Sudan. And it stayed on my mind for a long time, and I felt really pretty helpless to do much about it in the situation--I mean, other than maybe a little contribution--but, you know, I kept thinking, `I really should be doing more,' and ended up Congress, ended up asking for the International Relations Committee, obtaining that. Then I ended up asking for the Africa Subcommittee. And when I did, by the way, one of the staffers came up to me and he said, `You know, Congressman, you don't have to take this just because you're a freshman.'

CONAN: Not seen as a plum assignment, is this...

Rep. TANCREDO: It's not a plum assignment. You really can't raise an awful lot of money either on the International Relations Committee or especially on the Africa Subcommittee. But anyway, I said, `Well, there's a reason I want to do that,' and I was harkening back to this thing that had happened, this little--something that had been on my mind and heart. And eventually went to Sudan and came back, authored the Sudan Peace Act, and was--and so when I look back, I know that I did that as a result of something that happened to me actually in my church, so, yeah, it happens. I cannot think of a particular bill to--you know, more responsive directly to your question, I can't think of a particular bill on which I've cast a vote that was either in opposition to my own religious beliefs or supporting those that may be for a majority of the other people in my district.

CONAN: Can you stay with us?


CONAN: We have to take a short break.

Rep. TANCREDO: Sure.

CONAN: Thomas Tancredo, Republican from Colorado, speaking to us on the phone. We want to hear your thoughts as well. Where is the line between religion and public policy? (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. E-mail is totn@npr.org. Later in the program, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut will also be joining us.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News. Hurricane Wilma plowed across Florida today, causing widespread damage, leaving millions without power. The storm has swirled out into the open Atlantic and is unlikely to affect the East Coast of the United States. And The Washington Post reported today that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist did, indeed, have information about his investments in HCA Incorporated. This may contradict some of his previous statements about the sale of stock in the company, which is owned by his family. You can hear details on those stories coming up later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Today we're talking on TALK OF THE NATION about how religion influences the daily work of people in the public sector. We invite you to join us if you're a public official, a teacher, a librarian, a cop. Where do you draw the line between personal faith and your job? (800) 989-8255. E-mail is totn@npr.org.

We're talking with Colorado congressman, Tom Tancredo, a Republican, a former Catholic who became an evangelical Presbyterian. And, Congressman, I did want to ask you about a controversy out there in the state of Colorado involving Protestant ministers and the Air Force Academy, who were accused of trying to proselytize the students at--the cadets at the Air Force Academy.

Rep. TANCREDO: Yeah. And I think it was--if my memory serves, it was also ju--it was--there were some accusations against students who were trying to do the same thing...

CONAN: Indeed. Yes.

Rep. TANCREDO: ...or who were harassing people who were not Christian--something like that. And I must admit, I don't recall all of the specifics. But, you know, there certainly is a very clear line over which I think somebody stepped there if, in fact, the allegations of harassing are true. Harassment is not part of the agenda ...(unintelligible) certainly it's not from--in the standpoint of what we do in--you know, in the Congress, but it should make--not be tolerated in any publicly funded institution.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line, and this is Mary. Mary calling us from Lake Odessa in Michigan.

MARY (Caller): Good afternoon. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

MARY: I am a special ed. teacher and I'm also the local United Methodist pastor here in town.

CONAN: And I wonder, has this conflict--has this been a conflict in your life?

MARY: No, the two have really blended well together. When I began teaching special education, I worked with terminally ill children, which is what got me into ministry. When I called in, one of the things that I have dealt with in the last few years, particularly, is dealing with children who are terminally ill or their parents are ill, and it's a very difficult line to walk as a classroom teacher not to become their pastor. Certainly, your faith enters into conversations with them, but you must be extremely guarded about what you say and what you share with them.

CONAN: Yet, your faith also must sustain you in what has to be a pretty difficult position.

MARY: Exactly. Exactly. As I look at what is happening in Washington and seeing the nominations, faith is a very strong thing that people cling to in desperate times and we in this country are going through some very discerning, desperate times. And our faith is something that we lean on, and it impacts every piece of our life if we're true believers, whether we're Christians or Muslims or of the Jewish persuasion.

CONAN: And, Congressman Tancredo...


CONAN: ...obviously, you're not in an analogous position, but have there been times when your faith has helped you through crises through your public life?

Rep. TANCREDO: Oh, oh, absolutely. I represent a district in which Columbine High School is located, and it's only about a little over a mile from my home. I had only been in Congress for about, oh, I guess, a couple of months and--because it happened in April, and I remember, you know, sitting in my office, looking up at the television screen. It was on mute and there was just, you know, there's some stuff traveling along the bottom of the screen, and it kept saying `Columbine High School in Littleton' and then talking--and I kept thinking, `That is not possible. That's not the school down the street from my house. That's not where my neighbors' kids go.' And, of course, coming to the realization that all of it, in fact, was true, that it was by my house and those were my neighbors' kids. I guarantee you that that was something through which I had to work, and I did so with the grace of God.

CONAN: Mary, thanks very much for the call.

MARY: Well, thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye.

MARY: Bye-bye.

CONAN: And let's talk now with Annand(ph). Annand is calling us from northern Virginia.

ANNAND (Caller): Hi. Thank you for having me on your show.

CONAN: Certainly.

ANNAND: My question is the following. I consider myself an atheist. I don't have any particular faith. I want to ask your guest, what is the place of constituents like me in the society you envisage? You know, are we condemned to live under the tyranny of the faithful for the rest of our lives or are we going to have any say at all in the way that things are run? And (technical difficulties) point is that it should not be brought into public forum.

CONAN: Right.

ANNAND: And I feel this more particularly because I'm also a student at the University of Maryland and I get this feeling that this country is really rapidly deteriorating into being a very zealot, theocratic state and, you know, a time will come when this country will not be very different from Iran or Iraq or whatever, you know. This is not a nice trend. It is very, very frightening.

CONAN: Representative Tancredo, Annand is not the only atheist or, for that matter, religious person who said that they worry about theocracy in this country.

Rep. TANCREDO: Yeah. It is undeniably true, no matter how much people get upset by this fact, but it is undeniably true that the history of this nation was written by primarily white Christian men. It is also a fact that that is the culture out of which we spring. It is something that is part of who we are. The great beauty of this country is that we can have that and, of course, allow someone like the caller to feel quite comfortable, I think, in certainly almost every aspect of his life that I can think of and being an atheist. And certainly, nobody's threatening to imprison him. No one's threatening to fine him. No one's threatening to stone him because he doesn't believe in any particular God.

So that's the greatness of the country. It is also the greatness of the country that there are principles in Christianity upon which we based this whole system, and, you know, I think back how articulate Martin Luther King was in expressing this particular point of view in that, you know, he called for a different kind of society than the one in which he lived at the time and one in which I think--I mean, called for it based upon his religious perspective. He often talked about it, you know. And he was, of course, Reverend Martin Luther King. And I don't actually remember anybody attacking him for trying to use his religion to influence the country or the direction of the country.

These things--they're all tough questions. Nobody argues that, and there's certainly no simple solution. It's just that we've worked out a really great way to handle it, I think, and that is to say, yes, this is who we are. I mean, we can try to destroy that. We can try to ignore it, the idea that it is--you know, that we sprang from those roots. But it is nonetheless the fact, and so until it is destroyed, until we completely erase those principles from the public square, we'll have to live with that reality, but we also live with the reality that here, you are not going to be terribly inconvenienced by not agreeing with it.

CONAN: Annand, thank you very much for the call, and Congressman Tancredo, I wanted to thank you very much for your time today.

Rep. TANCREDO: It's a pleasure, sir. Thank you.

CONAN: Thomas Tancredo, Republican from Colorado, and he joined us by phone from Omaha, Nebraska.

Senator Joseph Lieberman joins us now from the Senate Radio Studio on Capitol Hill. His Orthodox Jewish faith became quite public when he was the vice presidential running mate with Al Gore in the year 2000. He later ran for the Democratic nomination in 2004. Senator Lieberman, always nice to have you with us on the program.

Senator JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (Democratic, Connecticut): Neal, good to be with you again. Thank you.

CONAN: Your religion was no obstacle to those nominations; in some respects, regarded as an asset as the vice presidential nod. What do you think it says about how attitudes toward a politician's personal faith have changed over the years?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Well, it's a very important question, and you're absolutely right, and I'll focus in on 2000, because it was a clearer and more intense example of breakthrough. I mean, I was the first Jewish American honored to be on a national ticket. In the first week or so of the campaign, there was a great focus on that fact and on my religion, on the nature of my observance, but--and even, frankly, on the darker side. On the Internet, there was some anti-Semitism, but it all went away. And by the end of it, no one was focused very much on my religion, and that's the way I wanted it to be. I didn't want to get votes or lose votes because of my religion.

But let me answer your question, because I think it's an interesting point. The hero--the inspiring hero of my political life was John F. Kennedy, Roman Catholic from Massachusetts. I was 18 years old in 1960. Part of the appeal that Senator Kennedy--then Senator Kennedy had to me was, obviously, because he was young, he was progressive, etc. But part of it, I'm sure, was that he was Catholic and, in that sense, a member of a minority group. When he succeeded, I think it said to me--not that I was planning a political career then--but that America was really an open country. But President Kennedy, during that campaign, had to distance himself in some sense, not from his religion but from the effect it might have on him. I didn't feel any pressure of that kind in 2000. I think it measures some distance that the country came in that time. I mean, obviously, my first responsibility...

CONAN: Well...

Sen. LIEBERMAN: ...as a senator, and if I had been able to take office as vice president, would be the Constitution, the interests of the country, but my...

CONAN: Well, maybe one reason for that is the Jewish faith is not organized in a hierarchy like the Roman Catholic Church and doesn't issue pronunciamentos on public policy the way the Vatican sometimes does.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Well, there's probably something to that. Maybe I should take the old Will Rogers line about the Democratic Party. `I belong to no organized political party. I'm a Democrat,' and apply it to my own faith. But there is certainly precedent, if I can use a judicial term, in Judaism, but you're absolutely right, that that probably was a factor. But I do think there's something else to be said, which is that President Kennedy broke a barrier, and I think over time, the country has become more accepting and tolerant of all faiths, and I--you know, I don't want to re-litigate the results of the much disputed 2000 election, if I make this comment, that it does say something that Al Gore and I got a half a million more votes, and by that I mean to say, it says to me that certainly the American people weren't turned off because, for the first time, somebody Jewish ran for a national office.

CONAN: We're talking about the different roles of religion and politics. You're talking--you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And, Senator Lieberman, since we've asked everybody else about this, President Bush brought this--this comes up in a lot of the different policy distinctions from--everything from intelligent design to school vouchers to a lot of other things, but...


CONAN: ...he mentioned that Harriet Miers' faith was one of the reasons that he decided to pick her to fill Sandra Day O'Connor's seat on the Supreme Court. Was that appropriate, do you think?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: My reaction to that is fair enough, because I do think that certainly, the president, as the nom--given the authority to nominate a justice to the Supreme Court, has a right to include among the factors that give him confidence about the kind of justice this person would be, whether she is religious--obviously, one hopes that he also considered her legal exp--I'm sure he did--her legal experience, etc., etc. But when she gets into this job, the question obviously is how will she interpret the Constitution? Because that's got to be her number one responsibility.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Plummer(ph). Plummer calling us from Laurel in Maryland.

PLUMMER (Caller): Hi. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

PLUMMER: I just wanted to make the comment that really, we live by the choices that we make. Faith is a choice. Several years ago, I was bi-vocational I was the assistant pastor of a church, and I worked for a huge advertising outfit. And one of my biggest, largest accounts at the time--I was a commission salesperson--was a strip joint.


PLUMMER: Yeah. And I had to make the decision. Do I go ahead and pursue this because it was easy money, you know? They'd renew, you know, without even me having to do any of a sales thing, but I went and spoke to my boss. I said, `I can't do this because this is where I stand.' And, you know, fortunately, my boss said, `OK, that's fine, we'll just give this, you know, account to someone else.' And life went on. And, you know, I just wanted to make that comment that, you know, it's--our faith is about the choices that we make, period. You know, if you choose to stand by your faith and what you believe, then that's what you choose to. If you choose to compromise, then there's a problem.

CONAN: Well, I wonder--and thank you very much for the call, Plummer. Senator Lieberman, politicians don't always have that luxury. Again, you have the case of a Catholic running for governor in the state of Virginia who says though he is opposed to the death penalty, if elected governor, he would enforce the law of the state of Virginia. You've had Catholic governors of various states, including New York, who said, `Yes, my faith is opposed to abortion, but that's the law of the state of New York, and I'm going to uphold it.'

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Correct. Correct. Well, first of all, I admire the caller. Secondly, I think that most people in public life--and I'll speak of myself. I've found that if you're honest about who you are, people respect that, even if who you are may involve some religious practices that are different from the ones that they have. But ultimately, I come back to what I said earlier. When you're in public office, your responsibility cannot primarily be to your faith or the doctrines of it. It has to be to the Constitution, to the interests of the country. So, you know, you point to some very difficult positions that people like the Democrat, Tim Kaine, lieutenant governor of Virginia, now running for governor against the death penalty, but has said that he would enforce it if he was governor.

Look, John Roberts, now the chief justice of the Supreme Court, was asked over and over again in individual meetings with senators and at the Judiciary Committee hearings--he is a devout Catholic, presumably, personally opposed abortion, and the question was: Would that personal opinion in any way make it impossible or difficult for you to carry out and respect the precedence of the court, including the Roe vs. Wade and Casey cases? And he said, `No.' And I think that's the appropriate balance.

CONAN: We just have a minute or so left with you, and this may be not answerable in that amount of time, but I wanted to ask you, the president of the United States has said that he has a personal relationship with God as well. That makes many people uncomfortable. Does it make you feel more positive about whoever it is who holds that job, taking the personality and the politics of this particular president out of it, or would it make you--would it trouble you?

Sen. LIEBERMAN: That's a hard one to answer in a minute. I mean, I guess I'd have to hear it directly from the president, and I haven't. I think a lot of people in this country feel that they have what might be called a personal relationship with God in the sense that their belief in God is very deep and personal, their prayers are very genuine and personal. I don't know that--I certainly don't believe that I get messages from the Almighty on a regular basis about what I should do. This goes back to the great old Lincoln quote, which is that Lincoln said that he didn't want proclaim that God was on his side; he wanted to act in a way that it would make it clear that he was on God's side. And I think that's the goal and the ideal that we should all strive for.

CONAN: Senator Lieberman, we thank you for your time today.

Sen. LIEBERMAN: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Joseph Lieberman, Democrat from Connecticut, joined us from the Senate Radio Studios on Capitol Hill.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

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