The Preacher in Chief? 

Do Republican candidates' loyalties lie with the Constitution or with fundamentalist Christianity?

As we all know, the president of the United States is elected by and swears to serve all citizens of this nation by protecting and defending the Constitution, not the Bible or any other religious text. America — founded by men who in some instances proclaimed Jesus as their God — was created to assure the freedoms of religion and conscience without regard to an individual's personal beliefs, creed, or worship practices.

The Republican Party appears to have abandoned any commitment to this tenet of the Constitution and is positioned to nominate a preacher in chief, whose first loyalty will be to the dogmas of Christian fundamentalism.

And they have a constituency. Across the country, sprawling corporate religious "lifestyle centers," serving more as Christian country clubs than as houses of worship, have produced congregations who foster a blend of ostentatious piety, self-righteous intolerance, and unyielding arrogance. For these churchgoers, voting Republican is de rigueur.

Unprecedented amounts of wealth have been amassed in many of these churches, not in small part as a result of the wealth-redistribution policy of the Republican administrations' faith-based government programs. The threat of losing this power and money may in fact be looming large in the selection of the party's nominee and in the desperately pious tone, manner, and attitude of the Republican presidential acolytes.

Not to be outdone, the media, particularly cable television punditry and radio talk-show hosts, are reliably helping to advance the idea of establishing a religious "test" for candidates. Although the most recent Republican debate fielded questions created by viewers of YouTube, those questions were vetted and selected by officials at CNN. Thus, all Republican presidential candidates were asked by Wolf Blitzer if they believed in the inerrancy of the Bible. (Any guesses as to how the pack of them answered?)

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a proud member of God's Own Party and an ordained Baptist minister, may be the most flagrant offender against the Constitution. Huckabee recently told a group of students at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University that his astonishing rise in the Iowa polls is an "act of God." He has also received letters of endorsement from Tim LaHaye, author of the "Left Behind" series of novels which extol the Rapture as an imminent end-of-the-world phenomenon.

Huckabee has stated on the record that he does not believe in evolution and lists among the most urgent issues facing the country the perils of abortion and gay marriage, as well as threats to the unlimited rights of gun-owners. His frequent statements of religiosity are delivered with a jocular smile and a sense of humor — designed, apparently, to seem non-threatening to anyone who is not a believer.

And, as if this country hasn't suffered enough division, enough religious hypocrisy, and enough self-righteous intolerance in the last seven years, now we have former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, an ex-moderate of sorts, hastening to join the ranks of Christian soldiers in the Republican Party and seeking like the rest to impose a religious obligation on political service. His immediate motivation, amplified by concern about rival Huckabee, is to gain the White House at any cost, but the ultimate result of his apostasy from reason is to further erode the wall separating church and state in this country — something most Christian fundamentalists believe is a myth concocted by God-hating secular liberals.

Prompted by Huckabee's surge, Mormon Romney has ramped up his attempt to sway the fundamentalist crowds and seems determined to try to one-up Preacher Huckabee. He may indeed have trumped Huckabee with this mind-bending assertion: "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. ... Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." Can Romney really not know of the suppression, torture, and murder of heretics and infidels by Christians (and members of virtually every other religion) throughout history?

When candidates such as Romney and Huckabee ratchet up their efforts to destroy the separation of church and state established by this country's founders, it requires those of us in the electorate to ratchet right back. After all, it is an election that will be held in America next November, not an altar call.

Cheri DelBrocco writes the "Mad As Hell" column for

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