Are You There God? It's Me, Joel.

By Erica C. Barnett July 17, 2009

Joel Connelly's column today (headline: "Hutchison goes to church and prays—so what?") is off-base in so many ways it's hard to know where to start.

So I'll start with the obvious: His characterization of me as a "militant secularist" and "anti-religious bigot" is silly and inaccurate.

Connelly wrote:
In this era of political correctness, evangelical Christians and Catholics remain fair game for those who call themselves freethinkers.

Guilt by association, broad-brush smears, demeaning sarcasm -- tactics used by the right-wing screamers on Fox News -- get borrowed by the secular left in Seattle. [...]

The name-calling against Hutchison reads like a Karl Rove playbook adopted for use by the left. "Religious Wingnut" read a recent headline in The Stranger. Underneath, scribe Erica Barnett (now with Publicola) huffed about Hutchison's donation to "anti-choice nut job Mike Huckabee," her being a director of the "creationist Discovery Institute," and her "Bible-thumping speech" at the Governor's Prayer Breakfast.

A breakfast prayer was used as proof of Hutchison's nuttiness: "God created the magnificent universe and the world we see and the glorious beauty around us . . . Christ himself is the creator who made everything in heaven and earth."

Based on these words, Barnett accused Hutchison of wanting to teach religion in science classes.

[caption id="attachment_9746" align="alignnone" width="318" caption="Susan Hutchison"]Susan Hutchison [/caption]

OK, ignoring the irony of Connelly criticizing "name-calling" while calling me a bigot, a militant secularist, a Karl Rove wannabe, etc., let's look at what I actually wrote, and what evidence I actually cited. (Incidentally, the actual headline of my story , "Closet Case: Susan Hutchison can run be she can't hide," does not contain the words "religious wingnut"—Connelly appears to have fabricated that one out of whole cloth.) Since it's fairly common for people quoted in the press to say their words were taken out of context, I'm going to provide the context, with no cuts or deletions (and one bold added for emphasis).

From my story about Hutchison, written for The Stranger :
But don't let Hutchison's nonpartisan pretenses fool you. She's a partisan Republican with a long history of working for and donating to right-wing causes.

Hutchison has given thousands of dollars to Republican candidates (including anti-choice nut job Mike Huckabee), she has served as a board member for the creationist Discovery Institute, she almost ran for state senate as a Republican in 2005, and she delivered a Bible-thumping speech at this year's Governor's Prayer Breakfast in which she sneered at "activist atheists" and evolutionary biologists like Richard Dawkins for "believing they can get by just fine" without Jesus.

Contrary to what "evolutionists" like Dawkins believe, Hutchison told prayer-breakfast attendees earlier this year, "God created the magnificent universe and the world we see and the glorious beauty around us... Christ himself is the creator who made everything in heaven and earth."

It's one thing to believe in God (as plenty of public officials, including outgoing county executive Ron Sims, do); it's quite another to advocate the teaching of religion in science classes and to condemn scientists for being scientists.

Hutchison's creationist beliefs dovetail perfectly with the Discovery Institute, the right-wing think tank where she served as a board member. Best known for pushing "intelligent design," the Discovery Institute encourages public schools to "teach the controversy," an attempt to put evolution and creationism on equal footing in science classes.

How you read that—particularly the part about belief in God having nothing to do with one's qualifications or lack thereof for public office—and get to "anti-religious bigotry" and the claim that I believe Hutchison wants to teach creationism in public school "based on the words" in the prayer I cited is beyond me.

Let's be clear: For many years, Hutchison was a director at the Discovery Institute. You can argue, as Connelly does, that "intelligent design"—the idea that the world and everything in it had a Creator—and creationism are two different things, but that's not really the issue here. I believe that neither creationism nor "intelligent design" belongs in science classes, because they have nothing to do with science. Does that make me a "bigot," as Connelly says? So be it.

Would I call Mike Huckabee an "anti-choice nutjob?" For PubliCola? Probably not. However, I certainly stand by the sentiment, and will happily back it up with documentation: Mike Huckabee, in addition to believing that the government should take away a woman's right to choose with no exceptions for the life or health of the woman, even opposes basic birth control . That is a fringe point of view. I take offense at the notion that I'm a "bigot" for believing that I deserve autonomy over my own body and refusing to vote for people who would take that right—established by the U.S. Supreme Court 36 years ago—away.

As for the "Bible-thumping speech," I think my story, including the context Connelly selectively excised, speaks for itself.

Incidentally, Connelly also tore into blogger David Goldstein, calling Goldstien "brazenly sexist" for referring to Hutchison as "Suzie." Problem is: That's how Hutchison frequently refers to herself, and what associates and friends call her. Can it be sexist to refer to women by diminutives? Absolutely. Was it in this case? I don't think so.

Connelly is Catholic, and I have no problem with that. However, unlike Connelly, I believe that the public discourse is best served by airing a whole variety of views—including those of Jews, agnostics, and people who don't believe in God.
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