Virginia GOP ad: “Preserve our Christian heritage! VOTE REPUBLICAN”

The Augusta County (Virginia) Republican Committee ran an ad as an insert in yesterday’s Staunton News-Leader reading “Preserve our Christian heritage! VOTE REPUBLICAN,” laying out the party’s thoughts about the First Amendment heading into next week’s legislative elections.

As Larry Roller, who is on the Republican Committee, said in an interview with the News-Leader, “God is a foundation of our nation. If you read the histories of our founding fathers, (they say) you should not run for office if you are not a Christian.”

“They have taken the Ten Commandments out of public places, along with the Pledge of Allegiance and daily prayer out of the schools. They seem to forget the very first thing they did before writing the Constitution was pray for 3 1/2 hours,” he continued.

A message from North Carolina's government, via Shutterstock

A message from God, apparently, via Shutterstock

Being from Virginia, Roller should know how ridiculous this is. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison could not have been clearer about the lack of a religious test for public office. The word “God” didn’t appear in the Pledge of Allegiance until 1954, added as part of the Red Scare to help an insecure nation remind itself that it wasn’t a bunch of godless commies.

When asked by the News-Leader if he was at all uncomfortable using the word “heritage” in a flier, given that word’s association with white supremacy groups — including in the Staunton area — he dismissed the question, saying that just because other people have misused the word doesn’t mean he can’t use it in its proper context. Which, of course, he isn’t doing.

And while it would be easy enough to write Roller off as just a set-in-his-ways old guy with some views “from a different time,” his fellow Republicans aren’t exactly distancing themselves from the ad. As Tim Martin, the Republican candidate for Commonwealth’s Attorney whose name appeared above the ad, said in reaction to the insert:

That’s funny. I’m Christian, so I don’t have a problem with it…As a prosecutor I will be guided by my Christian values.  Paramount in my book, is justice, mercy, fairness and the positive values enumerated in the Bible….I’m proud to be a Christian and I’m proud to have that associated with me…If I were to have invented the ad, I might have substituted ‘values’ rather than heritage. But parsing words is a dangerous game. I don’t distance myself from it.

That reaction is almost worse than the ad itself. As a prosecutor, Martin shouldn’t be guided by the Bible; he should be guided by the law. As a prosecutor and as a Christian, he should be positively freaked out at the concept of religion being used as a criteria for public office. These are the same Republicans who are sweating out the idea that maybe it won’t be okay to be a Christian in public in a few years. Shouldn’t they be fighting like hell to preserve the concept of a theologically neutral politics?

Instead, Martin is content to thumb his nose at the concept of religious neutrality so long as the affront lines up with the beliefs he already holds. That’s the last thing you want to see out of a candidate charged with upholding a set of secular laws.

As Hemant Mehta quipped, “Of course he doesn’t have a problem with it. Christians, for all their empathy talk, are unable to put themselves in the shoes of people who aren’t Christians.”

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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