“Voting for Sin”

My colleague at Heretical Ideas, Tom Traina, has an excellent post regarding Katherine Harris’ recent idiotic comments about the dire threat of not voting for Christians.

U.S. Senate candidate and former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris stepped in it last week when she told a newspaper “If you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin”. It reminded me of a gay stand-up comic who used to talk about how conservatives didn’t want gays raising children for fears of them turning their children gay. “Gay parents don’t have gay kids, straight parents have gay kids” was his line. And it’s oddly fitting how the line of reasoning can be applied to Harris’ mind-boggling comment.

There isn’t one open atheist in the 535-member U.S. Congress. Every United States president has been some form of protestant Christian, except for John F. Kennedy who was Irish Catholic. Given the moral atrocities that have littered our history, and how Christianity has either been directly used to push it forward, such as Manifest Destiny, or has been a Kitty Genovese-style bystander to horrible attrocities, like slavery, it seems peculiar that non-christians are being called out on creating sin.


Besides, some of the most influential people in American history have been openly skeptical of God at a minimum and an atheist at most, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Mark Twain, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, H. L. Mencken, and probably many many more. This list doesn’t even include non-christians who heavily influenced the American landscape, like Ghandi. Were their contributions to American society and culture somehow tainted because they dared to challenge the orthodoxy of God’s existence?

Read the whole thing. To be sure, Christians are hardly solely a source of strife in American history. It was the leadership of Christian movements that helped fuel the abolitionist and civil rights movements, just to name two. But I think that Tom’s point is a strong one: You can’t judge a politician by their religion. After all, “the sun shines on the just and the unjust alike.” There have been Christians and non-Christians that have helped contribute to the greatness of America. And there have been Christians and non-Christians that have not.

But what irks me about politicians like Harris is the claim that the United States “is a Christian nation.” This is true in the sense that a majority of Americans are Christian. However, America’s institutions are decidedly secular, and for the most part always have been. And should be. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2006, Congress, LGBTQ Issues, Religion, US Constitution, US Politics, , , , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.


  1. Anderson says:

    This reminds me of a great link over at Unfogged to an evangelical Christian’s second thoughts about prayer at high school football games … when the games are in Hawaii, and the prayers are Shinto or Buddhist:

    Needless to say that was our first and last football game. Although many of the students we worked with continued to invite us to the games, we were forced to decline. We knew that if we were to attend again we would be forced to abstain from the pre-game activity. And not wanting to offend our Asiatic neighbors and colleagues, we simply refrained from attending.
    The point is this. I am a professional, educated and responsible man who is strong in his faith and is quite comfortable debating the social and political issues of the day. Yet when placed in a setting where the majority culture proved hostile to my faith and beliefs, I became paralyzed with indecision and could not act decisively to defend and proclaim my own beliefs. I felt instantly ostracized and viewed myself as a foreigner in my own land.

    The inability of so many people to imagine themselves in this position–or, worse, the indifference towards those who actually find themselves in this position–is what fuels religious conflict in this country.

  2. M1EK says:

    “However, America’s institutions are decidedly secular, and for the most part always have been. And should be.”

    Man, are you in the wrong political party, then.

  3. Kent G. Budge says:

    I don’t have any really big argument with this post, but perhaps one nit: The famous Danbury Baptist letter, which gave us the phrase “separation between church and State”, spoke to the need to protect the churches from the government. There’s not much there to suggest Jefferson saw a need to protect the government from the churches — other than the important restriction on sectarian rent-seeking (“establishment of religion.”)