The Christian Coalition's Ralph Reed Jr. and Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, have given their support to a new group designed to bring its religious perspective to the growing political debate over values and public policy.
The group's membership and platform are decidedly conservative. However, Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the new Center for Judeo-Christian Values in America, said he hopes that the group will eventually encompass liberal viewpoints as well.
"I do not consider bringing morality into the public arena to be of importance to conservatives only," said Eckstein, who is based in Chicago.
Lieberman, a conservative Democrat, said: "We are focusing on what unites us. . . . We have no ideological litmus test. We welcome everyone."
The center, which will be in Washington, grew out of a meeting convened last year by Eckstein after conservative Christian and liberal Jewish groups became embroiled in a highly public--and at times nasty--rhetorical battle over the role of religion in the political arena.
That meeting opened communication between groups that had been antagonistic toward each other, such as the conservative Christian Coalition and the liberal Jewish Anti-Defamation League.
At a news conference announcing the new group this week, Eckstein was joined by such conservative leaders as Empower America co-Director William Bennett, a Roman Catholic; Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.), an evangelical Presbyterian; Forest Montgomery, counsel for the National Assn. of Evangelicals; Michael Ferguson of the public policy agency Catholic Campaign for America; and Cheryl Halpern of the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican Party support group.
Eckstein said the new center, which will be funded through grants and donations, will not become a lobbying group and will "stay away from issuing faith statements" and focus instead on identifying values shared by Christians and Jews and delineating public policy positions in accordance with those views.
The center's statement of purpose said it aims to promote "the value of human life; the sanctity of the traditional family; the value of hard work, responsibility, honesty, loyalty, compassion and tolerance; and the free expression of faith."
The center's political leanings show up in its declared support for "The Project for American Renewal," a conservative blueprint developed by Bennett and Coats that, among other things, envisions shifting welfare program control from the federal to state level.
Despite the center's conservative focus, liberal Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, said he welcomes the new group.
"Conceptually, it's a good idea," he said. "Religious values do belong in the debate. It all depends upon how the concept is executed, however."
However, Jill Hanauer, executive director of the Interfaith Alliance, a liberal lobbying group founded in opposition to the religious right, dismissed the new center outright.
"No one can speak in the name of Judeo-Christian values," she said. "Anybody who claims to speak for all people of faith is a false prophet."