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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Harris Fights Legislating Sin

I know that criticizing Katherine Harris, Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida, is sorta like shooting fish in a barrel. But Lord, does she ever flop arond in that barrel!Her latest nutquest is in an interview with a Florida Baptist periodical, wherein she goes way out of her way to attack the very idea of separation of church and state, and to suggest a religious test for candidates for office:

The Bible says we are to be salt and light. And salt and light means not just in the church and not just as a teacher or as a pastor or a banker or a lawyer, but in government and we have to have elected officials in government and we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers. And if we are the ones not actively involved in electing those godly men and women and if people aren’t involved in helping godly men in getting elected than we’re going to have a nation of secular laws. That’s not what our founding fathers intended and that’s certainly isn’t what God intended….If you are not electing Christians, tried and true, under public scrutiny and pressure, if you’re not electing Christians then in essence you are going to legislate sin. They can legislate sin. They can say that abortion is alright. They can vote to sustain gay marriage. And that will take western civilization, indeed other nations because people look to our country as one nation as under God and whenever we legislate sin and we say abortion is permissible and we say gay unions are permissible, then average citizens who are not Christians, because they don’t know better, we are leading them astray and it’s wrong.

Nobody ever accused Katherine Harris of any original thoughts, so we’re offered up sort of a right-wing theocratic greatest hits: If you’re Christian, you have to be obsessed with banning abortion and gay rights. Any political action that does not focus on these eccentric causes is un-Christian. And any silly constitutional scruples about religion-based policies offends the Founding Fathers, and leads to “legislating sin.”I don’t know whether this pronouncement is more offensive for its ignorance of Christianity, its ignorance of the Founding Fathers (particularly Jefferson, for whom freedom of and from religion was paramount in his constitutional thinking), or its affrontary to the significant majority of Americans who do not share her particular views of God’s Will for Public Policy.Harris’ rant reminds me of a moment back in the 1980s, when the House was doing one of those silly late-autumn round-the-clock sessions. As always, a junior Member from the majority was in the chair, and it happened to be Rep. Barney Frank at some wee-hours moment when a Republican was making a speech about America’s status as a Christian Nation. Frank quickly replied from the chair: “If this is a Christian Nation, how come some poor Jew has to get up in the middle of the night to preside over the House of Representatives?”Katherine Harris decided a long time ago that her strategy for heading off any primary competition for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate was to combine total fidelity to the Christian Right with her GOP folk-hero status as the woman who helped hand the presidency to George W. Bush in 2000.But she hasn’t quite gotten the Bushian knack of pandering to the Christian Right without coming right out and endorsing theocracy. There are actually still a lot of Baptists particularly, and conservative evangelical Christians generally, who are a little queasy about condemning the separation of church and state–a doctrine that has obviously had a lot to do with the freedom and growth of evangelical Christianity in this country, and used to be a mainstay of Baptist identity as well. Katherine Harris misses all the nuances, and like a woman sporting a lavish mink coat in warm weather, manages to raise tackiness to new levels every time she goes public.

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