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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Holier than thou

    Matt Stonecolumnist
    Matt Stone

    Election season is in the air, and one need not look far for fringe Republicans tainting the good image of the Grand Old Party. This time, it comes from Rep. Katherine Harris of Florida who recently called the separation of church and state “”a lie.””

    In an interview for the Florida Baptist Witness, a newspaper, Harris claims that having non-Christians in office will “”in essence … legislate sin.””

    Her outrageous rhetoric, soaked as it is in blatant religious chauvinism and disrespect for the central tenets of the Constitution, is illustrative of the most virulent wing of the Republican Party – a wing propelled to the fore by the nauseating self-righteousness of the religious right.

    Harris is a case in point. In the interview, Harris was

    By claiming that the separation of church and state is a lie, Rep. Harris is overturning more than 250 years of conventional wisdom.

    asked if she was confident that she would “”spend an eternity with God in heaven.”” Harris responded, “”No question.”” Why? “”We (Christians) are as white as snow.””

    Religious self-righteousness itself is not a sin in the political sphere. But when that religious self-righteousness translates into political self-righteousness – the inability to see an issue through anything but a religious prism – then we have a problem.

    The mixing of religion and politics has always been a touchy subject – and more so of late. But the use of religion as an electoral tool was not originally a Republican innovation. Jimmy Carter, the Democratic peanut farmer from Georgia, was quick to emphasize his faith and religiosity over the stodgy Gerald Ford in the 1976 presidential election. In 1980, Ronald Reagan had clearly learned the lesson: Religious voters turn out.

    President Bush did the same in 2000 and 2004. During the latter campaign, he had the advantage of casting the American “”culture wars”” into a broader conflict against nihilistic faithlessness worldwide. Islamic extremism was seen as an extension of perverted faith – the co-opting of God’s will – with brash overtones of a “”crusade”” against terrorism.

    Harris has taken it one step further. Before, most of the religious right’s vainglorious swagger was targeted at foreign nations and foreign populations, mostly non-Christian ones.

    But now, the Constitution itself is being targeted. You may remember a certain Florida secretary of state during the 2000 election debacle. Who else? Katherine Harris.

    By claiming that the separation of church and state is a lie, Harris is overturning more than 250 years of conventional wisdom. Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock – these were complex men, expressing deep faith without tying it into the politics of the inchoate republic. They understood the danger inherent in self-righteous rulers. Harris does not. She claims senselessly that “”God is the one who chooses our rulers.”” If that were the case, we might just as well install a divine-right monarchy and let “”God’s will”” decide who leads the country. The Iranian ayatollahs and the mullahs of the Taliban also think that God ordained their destructive rule.

    This kind of talk from Harris is deeply troubling. Of course she doesn’t honestly believe that America should instate a dictatorial theocracy. She calls for increased participation by religious voters in election campaigns. But if rulers are designated by God, then his/her/its will is clearly manifest in the final outcome of participatory democracy – the same system that elected Bill Clinton, John F. Kennedy and other “”pagan”” presidents. Was that God’s will?

    Harris worries that (God forbid!) we “”will be a nation of secular laws”” without “”godly”” men and women in office. But if we already are a nation with relatively secular laws – was that God’s will?

    America would be best served without zealots like Harris in office. It’s encouraging that Florida’s top Republican brass have chosen not to endorse her run for the Senate. But it is most worrying that such figures as Harris even find an electoral base to propel them into government. The type of close-minded cretinism that Harris embodies is sadly evident on both sides of the aisle.

    America is in need of some moderation in the political arena – leaders willing to recognize the fluidity of compromise and leadership. To get that, we need voters who support middle-of-the-road candidates.

    As we trek into the 2006 election season, it’s high time America’s voters vote moderate.

    Matt Stone is a senior majoring in international studies and economics. He can be reached at

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