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Religious Tolerance logo

Separation of church and state

FL Representative Katherine Harris
advocates Christian-only politicians

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On 2006-AUG-26, the Orlando Sentinel newspaper in Florida discussed an interview of U.S. Representative Katherine Harris (R-FL). 1 She had been quoted in the AUG-24 issue of the Florida Baptist Witness -- the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention -- 2 as part of her campaign for a Senate seat in Congress. She allegedly said that her religious beliefs "animate" everything that she does, including how she votes in Congress. She is quoted as saying:

"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. 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 [sic]. ..."

She also said the principle of separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to discourage religious people from running for office. She is quoted as saying that it is God's will that:

"we have to have the faithful in government" [Separating religion and politics 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 [then] we're going to have a nation of secular laws. That's not what our founding fathers intended and that's [sic] certainly isn't what God intended."

The article generated a firestorm of opposition:

bulletU.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, (D-Weston), who is Jewish, said she was "disgusted" ... "and deeply disappointed in Rep. Harris personally. [Harris] "clearly shows that she does not deserve to be a representative..."
bulletState Rep. Irv Slosberg, (D-Boca Raton), also Jewish, asked for apology. He said that her statements were "outrageous, even by her standards ... What is going through this woman's mind? We do not live in a theocracy."
bulletRuby Brooks, a Republican activist, said that the remarks "were offensive to me as a Christian and a Republican.... To me, it's the height of hubris. ...This notion that you've been chosen or anointed, it's offensive. We hurt our cause with that more than we help it."
bulletJillian Hasner, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said: "I don't think it's representative of the Republican Party at all. Our party is much bigger and better than Katherine Harris is trying to make it." 1
bulletWill McBride, an Orlando lawyer and Peter Monroe, a developer are competing with Harris for the Senate seat.
bulletMcBride said that Harris, deliberately or not, excluded people. He said: "I'm a Christian, and I'm a Republican and I don't share her views. There are people of other faiths and backgrounds of outstanding integrity who know how to tell the truth."
bulletMonroe suggested that Harris abandon the Senate race and resign from Congress. He described her comments as "warped, twisted and disgraceful." He said that her statements that non-Christians "don't know better" was "contemptible, arrogant and wicked. ...[Harris] is no longer fit to serve." 3

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Statement from her campaign personnel:

Jennifer Marks, Harris' campaign spokesman, refused to say what Harris would support as an alternative to "a nation of secular laws." She released a brief statement which apparently negated everything that Harris had said in the Baptist interview:

"Congresswoman Harris encourages Americans from all walks of life and faith to participate in our government, She continues to be an unwavering advocate of religious rights and freedoms." 1

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Fighting the resultant brushfire:

Speaking at a gun show in Orlando, FL, Harris said that she did not mean to offend non-Christians. She said that during the interview with the journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention that her:

"... comments were specifically directed toward a Christian group ... My rallying cry has always been [that] people of all faiths should be involved."

Supporting this position was a second statement released by her campaign personnel which described her strong support for Israel and clarifying a statement she said about separation of church and state. When she called this a "lie" the statement said that she was referring to "a common misperception that people of faith should not be actively involved in government." 3

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Reaction by the public:

bulletRabbi Rick Sherwin, president of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis said:

"Anybody who claims to have a monopoly on God doesn't understand the strength of America. ... She's talking about a theocracy, and that's exactly opposite of what this country is based on."

bulletAhmed Bedier, the Central Florida director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), said he was "appalled that a person who's been in politics this long would hold such extreme views." He suggested that most Christians would find such comments "shameful."
bulletLarry Sabato, a political analyst at the University of Virginia said that Harris' comments would appeal to Fundamentalist Christians, but could alienate non-Christians and more moderate Republicans. He is quoted as saying: "It's insane, but it's not out of character for Katherine Harris." 1
bulletBrad Schader of BlogCritics.org commented on a number of her statements, including equal rights for gays and lesbians. He wrote:

"How does she feel about gay marriage or cvil [sic] rights for gay people? [She said] 'Civil rights have to do with individual rights and I don’t think they apply to the gay issues.' Gay people are not individuals? [She said] 'I have not supported gay marriage and I do not support any civil rights actions with regard to homosexuality.' Now that is just cold hearted evil, even beyond the typical GOP standards. I can understand opposing gay marriage. I do not agree with that position, but I can understand it, but what is up with 'I do not support any civil rights actions with regard to homosexuality'? Even the Republican position allows for civil rights. That is too extreme a viewpoint to give her a six-year job. 4

bulletPostings to the Salon.com letters to the editor were not kind:
bullet"Velora" wrote:
"Who does this harpy think she is? The Senate? Please, everybody knows that women aren't supposed to teach or hold positions of power over men. She should stay at home baking and being submissive. She doesn't even cover her hair! And all that whorish makeup!"
bullet"Yellow Dog" wrote:
"Bush and DeLay sincerely believe that everything they do is perfectly fine with God. They have 'accepted christ [sic] as my savior' and been immersed baptized and therefore are forgiven everything. It's an easy step from 'always forgiven' to 'always right,' and one most born-agains can't resist.

Its most direct and damaging result is an utter dearth of personal responsibility and accountability. Everything - EVERYTHING - is 'God told me to do it.' That not only makes everything they do beyond criticism, but also never their fault.

It is utterly impossible to persuade these people that they can be wrong about anything, and absolutely disastrous to put them in charge of anything more important than watching grass grow.

bullet"Slamboni" wrote:
"Harris represents all that's wrong with modern politics! Katherine Harris: what a delusional, cynical nutcase! I still recall her stopping the Florida recount in 2000...and the rest is...a very, very sad chapter in U.S. history. A nightmare we're still struggling with 6 years later. No matter how bad this wingnut Harris is in the polls, she refuses adamantly to face reality and throw in the towel. Her cynical pandering to the religious right is so nauseating."
bullet"timbuktom" wrote:
"Christianist Details: Poster Bryan Hurst asked, 'does this mean that Katherine Harris would support a law barring non-Christians from holding elected office?' Answer: Yes. No separation between church and state is one of the widely-accepted 'moderate' Christianist positions. An example of their sweeping, detailed silliness: They would outlaw Yoga. They see Yoga as demon worship. And these are not even the truly far-out fundamentalists. An example of how dangerous they are: They do not allow women to be pastors in their churches. They would not let women hold any positions of authority over men. But, there probably are not enough of them actually to take over the USA. Let us work to expose them. The truth will set us free." 5
bulletPosters to the CarpetBagger Report were also critical:
bullet"Buzzmon" wrote:
"This is the person that reduced me to a 2nd class citizen."
bulletEd Stephan wrote:
"Harris wrote: 'If you're not electing Christians,... then in essence you are going to legislate sin…' Typical of those who, like most Americans, have learned to believe in black-white, win-lose, us-them, red-blue, good-evil categories as the foundation of all thought. True, Socratic/Platonic logic is built up out of a series of dichotomies (like the taxonomic systems used in Biology), but even those ancient worthies realized, with Hamlet, that 'There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy' — not to grant redneck bigotry the status of being anything like a well-thought system of philosophy.

"I simply cannot understand the notion that if you're not Christian you can't be moral, let alone that you must be immoral. It's such a juvenile concept you wonder how the speaker could even form the words." 6

bulletHowever, two of Orlando Sentinel readers supported Harris:
bullet"jcrand" wrote:
"She's right ya know."
bullet"garym1" wrote:
"I wonder why people make it a big deal if a Christian canadate [sic] wants to get the Christian vote and have more Christians in plotical [sic] office.

All types of canadates [sic] devlope [sic] a base of support. Some go after the senior vote, some go after the Black vote, some go after the growth vote, some go after the Union vote, so after the gun control rights, yet if you go after the christian [sic] vote and are a christian [sic] you are called a right wing nutball [sic] or crazy.

P.S. I voted this morning early voting and casted [sic] my vote for Catherine Harris she has more courage that all the other canadates [sic] put together. No-one else was voting at the polling site when I voted, so my vote counts!" 1

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Jim Stratton, "Harris' comments draw fierce reaction. Political and religious officials criticize the candidate's comments on electing Christians," Orlando Sentinel, 2006-AUG-26, at: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

  2. Jim Stratton, "Harris tries to douse furor over remarks to Baptists," Orlando Sentinel, 2006-AUG-27, at: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

  3. "Katherine Harris (R)" Florida Baptist Witness, Vol 123, #29, 2006-AUG-24, at: http://www.floridabaptistwitness.com/

  4. Brad Schader, "Katherine Harris or the End of the World," Blog Critics, 2006-AUG-25, at: http://blogcritics.org/

  5. "Letters to the Editor about 'Katherine Harris in heaven? It's more likely than the U.S. Senate'," Salon, 2006-AUG, at: http://letters.salon.com/

  6. "Katherine Harris slips a little further from reality," The Carpetbagger Report, at: http://www.thecarpetbaggerreport.com/

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Site navigation: Home page > Religion & law > Sep. church/state > here

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Essay copyright © 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-AUG-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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