Lieberman calls himself an "observant" Jew, and is often known to refer to his faith in policy situations. Fish said that he and a growing number of religious leaders in Connecticut are starting to see a disconnect between Lieberman's devotion to faith and his opposition to a public option.
Fish said he generally feels that faith and politics should be kept far apart but said there have been times -- he mentioned the Civil Rights movement -- that faith leaders have been required to step into the political fray. He said the health care debate is another one of those times, and Lieberman's public statements on a public option require him and other religious leaders to counter him.
"In this case, Sen. Lieberman so regularly invokes his religion and his 'conscience' to support his positions that I felt it was important that we called him on the incongruity" of his position on health care and his faith, Fish said.
From the letter the group sent to Lieberman:
For us this is not an intellectual exercise. We work in our communities, among the sick and scared, who face not only illness but financial ruin when disease strikes. We see hard working people denied care because of pre-existing conditions. We see families with health insurance that they simply cannot afford. We see doctors and nurses whose vocation is to mend the broken, frustrated that their efforts are directed toward profits and paperwork rather than people and healing.
It is for this reason that we insist that the moral imperative of our time is clear. Anyone whose guide in public policy is conscience, anyone who argues that faith and religious tradition should direct our actions, such a person must stand for universal healthcare in America.
Fish said the "moral choice" in the health care debate is "perfect, pure universal coverage." But he said the bills in the House and Senate offer "the possiblity of getting a real improvement" in coverage, which means they need to be supported on moral grounds as well.
"I wouldn't say that the Torah commands a public option per se," he said, "but I think our faith does require we have a debate about the best ways to improve health care for the underprivileged."
Fish said that Lieberman's threat to filibuster the Senate bill shows he's not listening to that obligation. "He's not laying out the goals that he wants. He's just standing in the way of other's ideas."
Fish said he was a committed Lieberman supporter in 2006, as were others in the Concerned Clergy group he now leads. Fish said today his group is growing, and suggested that the faith community in Connecticut could continue to turn away from Lieberman unless he changes his tune on health care reform. Fish said many of leaders he's talked to are saying the same thing about the man they once backed.
"I hear, 'what happened to Joe?,'" he said.