Florida's Harris under fresh fire

Candidate says electing non-Christians to office allows officials to `legislate sin'

August 26, 2006|By Jim Stratton | Jim Stratton,Orlando Sentinel

U.S. Rep. Katherine Harris, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Florida, said this week that God did not intend for the United States to be a "nation of secular laws" and that a failure to elect Christians to political office will allow lawmaking bodies to "legislate sin."

The remarks, published in the weekly journal of the Florida Baptist State Convention, unleashed a torrent of criticism from political and religious officials.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, said she was "disgusted" by the comments "and deeply disappointed in Representative Harris personally."

Harris, Wasserman Schultz said, "clearly shows that she does not deserve to be a representative."

State Rep. Irv Slosberg, a Democrat, demanded an apology.

"What is going through this woman's mind?" said Slosberg. "We do not live in a theocracy."

The criticism was not limited to Democrats.

Ruby Brooks, a veteran Tampa Bay Republican activist, said Harris' remarks "were offensive to me as a Christian and a Republican."

"To me, it's the height of hubris," said Brooks, a former member of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee.

And Jillian 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."

The fallout follows an interview published in the Florida Baptist Witness. Its editors interviewed candidates for office, asking them to describe their faith and positions on certain issues.

Harris, who as Florida's secretary of state gained national attention during the disputed Florida presidential vote count in 2000, said her religious beliefs "animate" everything she does, including her votes in Congress.

She then warned voters that if they do not send Christians to office, they risk creating a government that is doomed to fail.

"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," she told interviewers, pointing to abortion and gay marriage as examples of that sin.

"Whenever we legislate sin," she said, "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."

Harris also said the separation of church and state is a "lie we have been told" to keep religious people out of politics.

In reality, she said, "we have to have the faithful in government" because that is God's will. Separating religion and politics is "so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers," she said.

"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."

Harris campaign spokesman Jennifer Marks would not answer questions about the interview.

Jim Stratton writes for the Orlando Sentinel.

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