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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Religious leaders ask Senate to raise level of debate

By Brad Wright/CNN

Investigating the President

January 5, 1999
Web posted at: 3:36 p.m. EST (2036 GMT)

WASHINGTON (January 5) -- With the U.S. Senate preparing for its historic impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, moderate religious leaders have called for senators to raise the level of discourse above the personal attacks sometimes heard during the debate by the House of Representatives.

The Interfaith Alliance, which stands in opposition to the Christian right, announced plans to hold a national religious summit on January 26 to focus on a more civil debate.

"During the investigation of the president and throughout the impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives, strident partisanship appeared more important than sensitive efforts to contribute to the common good, rhetorical machoism laced with emotion prevailed over collegial, reasoned debate," said the group's executive Director, Dr. Welton Gaddy.

"The Senate can and must begin to repair the fabric of our society. How the Senate conducts its business and reaches its conclusion will be every bit as important as the final decision it makes about the fate of the President," Gaddy said.

Dr. Azizah Y. al-Hibri, a law professor at the University of Richmond and head of a Muslim women's law group, said senators have an opportunity to change the level of debate before it further undermines democracy.

"We therefore ask our leaders to put the good of the nation, especially its children, ahead of their political distaste of others," al-Hibri said. "We ask them to be discreet in discussing moral issues, modest in pointing out the shortcomings of others, compassionate when judging them. We do not want to become a nation ruled by fear -- the fear of public shaming and destruction."

While not saying so directly, the Interfaith Alliance seemed to suggest that the Christian right's perceived intolerance of political views other than their own is at the root of the uncivil debate on impeachment. "Much of the public seems unable to deal with critical problems without resorting to destructive rhetoric and demonizes opponents," Gaddy said. "But that is what happens when religion becomes a form of politics and political loyalties become the measure of faith. Debates on issues deteriorate into denouncements of individuals. Honest differences of opinion are attacked as serious breaches of religious conviction."

Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that more civilized debate does not mean less vigorous debate.

"Civility does not mean complacency," Saperstein told reporters. "To be civil does not mean forfeiting our ability to criticize, in the strongest possible constructive terms, policies and ideas we don't like. It does mean finding ways of doing this while respecting, preserving, even defending, the basic humanity of those with whom we disagree."


Tuesday January 5, 1999

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