On yesterday’s Meet the Press, Tim Russert taxed Huckabee with a line, apparently from his speech to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting in Salt Lake City in 1996, where he urges the audience to “take back the nation for Christ.” This has roiled the waters a bit, causing various cries of outrage in the liberal blogosphere and making Yahoo’s top news stories this morning. Huck’s response was to say that such a remark was appropriate to a gathering of Southern Baptists–not very illuminating. What he should have said was that this is typical evangelistic language–what you tell the troops when they are going out to spread the word–not a summons to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States, as some outsiders might suppose.
The follow up exchange, given below, includes Huck’s comment that the country’s “Judeo-Christian background” respects those of no faith. As something of a connoisseur of the use of “Judeo-Christian” in public discourse, I’d say that represents a new and not unwelcome application of the term. Whether the Judeo-Christian tradition stands foursquare behind the principle that, as the Koran says, there should be “no compulsion in religion,” is another question. From time to time, it has been, let us say, a principle honored in the breach. For the complete transcript, look here.
MR. RUSSERT: And then, and then this comment. “I hope we answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ.” Where does…
GOV. HUCKABEE: Which was, by the way, that phrase was one I think was 1998, is that when it was? The 1998 speech?
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.
GOV. HUCKABEE: To the Southern Baptist Convention. So it was a speech made to a Christian gathering, and, and certainly that would be appropriate to be said to a gathering of Southern Baptists.
MR. RUSSERT: But where does this leave non-Christians?
GOV. HUCKABEE: Oh, it leaves them right in the middle of America. I think the Judeo-Christian background of this country is one that respects people not only of faith, but it respects people who don’t have faith. The, the key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone. And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else’s faith or to restrict. I think the First Amendment, Tim, is explicitly clear. Government should be restricted, not faith, government. And government’s restriction is on two fronts: one, it’s not to prefer one faith over another; and the second, it’s not to prohibit the practice of somebody’s religion, period.
MR. RUSSERT: So you’d have no problem appointing atheists to your Cabinet?
GOV. HUCKABEE: No, I wouldn’t have any problem at all appointing atheists. I probably had some working for me as governor. You know, I think you got to realize if people want–say, “Well, you were a pastor,” but I was a governor 10 1/2 years. I have more executive experience running a government. I was actually in a government position longer than I was a pastor. And if people want to know how I would blend these issues, the best way to look at it is how I served as a governor. I didn’t ever propose a bill that we would remove the capitol dome of Arkansas and replace it with a steeple. You know, we didn’t do tent revivals on the grounds of the capitol. But my faith is important to me. I try to be more descriptive of it. I just don’t want to run from it and act like it’s not important. It drives my views on everything from the environment to poverty to disease to hunger. Issues, frankly, I think the Republicans need to take a greater leadership role in. And as a Republican, but as a Christian, I would want to make sure that we’re speaking out on some of these issues that I think we’ve been lacking in as a party and as, as a nation.