WASHINGTON - The question of where to draw the elusive line between religion and politics is becoming more intense by the day as Sen. Joseph Lieberman presents voters with a vice presidential campaign infused with his faith.
More now than just a way of introducing himself to the nation, Lieberman's invocations of God are threaded through his campaign as the running mate of Democrat Al Gore, one of several men he's likened to Moses. Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are making overt appeals, too, for religious support.
Lieberman's upfront if not in-your-face faith is making some constitutional activists, religious scholars and even rank-and-file Democrats nervous.
''He's pushing it too far,'' said Martin E. Marty, emeritus professor at the University of Chicago and a scholar who was initially upbeat when Lieberman began talking about his Jewish values in the campaign. Now Marty sees Lieberman ''parading piety.''
But he said, ''I don't think he could refrain from it. It is who he is.''
Gore communications director Mark Fabiani agreed Lieberman is speaking as his own man and laughed at any notion that the words arise from any campaign strategy. ''We're not that organized,'' Fabiani said.
''Senator Lieberman has built his reputation, which is impeccable, on his openness, forthrightness and honesty,'' the spokesman said. ''Nothing is going to change that. I don't know that anyone knows how this stuff plays.''
Jim Duffy, a consultant in congressional Democratic campaigns, said Lieberman's religion is effective because it is genuine. Still, he said, ''There may be a time when they sit him down and say, 'We need to talk more policy and less God.'''
The muted reaction to Lieberman's use of religion from many on the left is raising a cry of ''double standard'' from the religious right, where activists were ridiculed as oddballs or worse when they injected God into politics 20 years ago and still are attacked in some quarters as constitutional subversives.
Still others say Americans have become progressively more accepting of religion in politics and are ready for a larger dose.
If the disparate voices agree on anything, it's that Lieberman's use of religion has yet to backfire with the public but that he may be getting close.
''For most Americans, his religious discourse is in their comfort zone,'' said John C. Green, a political scientist whose latest book on religion and politics, ''The Diminishing Divide,'' finds that the two are increasingly intermixed.
But he added: ''It's one of those things that should be stamped, 'Handle with Care.'''
Lieberman pitched a Medicare prescription drug plan as something that serves the spirit of the Fifth Commandment, which demands that mothers and fathers be honored. Celebrating the Clinton-Gore administration's accomplishments, he said it was as if ''the Red Sea finally parted and more Americans than ever before walked through behind President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.''
Comments like those troubled Green.
''It's potentially dangerous,'' he said. ''It connects, by rhetoric and symbol, God's will with a particular policy prescription.''
Phyllis Schlafly, a figure from the early days of the Christian conservative movement and still an influential activist, said she in some sense welcomes what Lieberman is doing even though he is at odds with her side on abortion, same-sex unions and much more.
''There's an element in this country that treats religious people like smokers,'' she said - '''You can go down the dark alley and hide in the doorway and have your cigarette, but for heaven's sake don't be around the rest of us.'''
But she added, ''It's clearly a double standard'' for people to attack the right while not calling Lieberman to account.
So far the toughest response has come from the Anti-Defamation League, whose chairman and director joined in a statement saying an emphasis on religion is ''inappropriate and even unsettling'' in this religiously diverse society. The league fights anti-Semitism.
Lieberman spokeswoman Kiki McLean said in response Tuesday that ''faith is an important component of who Joe Lieberman is'' but he ''always expresses his support of tolerance and separation of church and state.''
Green's book, written with three other authors attached to the Pew Research Center, points to polls indicating that public acceptance of religion in politics has grown since the 1960s.
''Lieberman's argument that religious voices have a very important role to play in political debate is something that many Americans will find quite plausible,'' Green said. What's unusual is for a Democrat to be presenting that argument, he said.
Marty, author of ''Politics, Religion and the Common Good,'' said Lieberman so far is ''getting a free ride from everybody but some Jews,'' but risks a backlash. ''If you take your religion into politics, you better be ready to be clobbered,'' he said.
Lieberman has used some of the language more identified with conservative evangelicals, including his contention that the Constitution does not demand ''freedom from religion,'' but only freedom ''of'' religion.
''This has gone way beyond what is appropriate for the political season,'' said Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. ''Mr. Lieberman now joins Mr. Bush as having moved from a simple affirmation of faith to pandering for votes.
''Your ability to understand Scripture may be appropriate in Iran,'' he said, ''but it sure is not appropriate here.''