Candidate’s church-state stance worries religious freedom blogger

A conservative Southern Baptist preacher running for Congress in Georgia is being described as the next Todd Akin.

By Bob Allen

A blogger for a Baptist group that advocates religious freedom for all views with alarm the rise of a Southern Baptist preacher and radio-show host likely headed for Congress after winning the Republican congressional primary in Georgia’s 10th district July 22.

Don Byrd, who writes a blog hosted by the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, warned July 23 that positions set out by candidate Jody Hice would “turn the church-state clock back more than 50 years.” Byrd, a teacher at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn., writes Blog from the Capital, which appears on the BJC's website but doesn't necessarily reflect its views.

Hice is a former Georgia Baptist Convention first vice president who served as a pastor for nearly 25 years before resigning from the pulpit of First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, Ga., in 2010 to devote more time to his daily radio program and to campaign speaking.

jody hiceHice is on record opposing a 1962 Supreme Court ruling banning prayer in public schools. He says Islam isn’t a religion, and as such does not deserve protection under the First Amendment.

Civil-liberties groups criticize his beliefs that gay people can change, wives should submit to their husbands and that the Second Amendment entitles Americans to own “cannons and bazookas and missiles" for self-defense.

A graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with a D. Min. from Luther Rice Seminary in Atlanta, Hice first ventured into public policy in 2003, when he fought the ACLU over removal of a Ten Commandments display at the Barrow County Courthouse. Christian Index Editor Gerald Harris supported the effort in an editorial published by Baptist Press.

In 2008 Hice endorsed presidential candidate John McCain from the pulpit as part an organized protest of an IRS rule that forbids tax-exempt charities from engaging in partisan politics. Today Hice is a leader in Pulpit Freedom Sunday, an annual event sponsored by the Alliance Defending Freedom.

Endorsements for Hice include Vision America founder Rick Scarborough, Family Research Council Action PAC, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, Tea Party Leadership Fund PAC and Traditional Values Coalition.

Hice is running for a seat vacated by Republican Congressman Paul Broun, one of the most socially conservative members of Congress, who is running for Senate. His district, redrawn after the 2010 census, is solidly Republican. In three races, Broun chalked up winning percentages of 61 percent, 67 percent and 100 percent.

Pundits have described Hice as the next Todd Akin, a former Missouri Congressman who lost a bid for Senate in 2012 after a gaffe in which he said women who are victims of “legitimate rape” seldom get pregnant.

Websites including MSBCN and Think Progress posted excerpts of some of Hice’s most controversial comments from his 2012 book, It's Now or Never: A Call to Reclaim America, and The Jody Hice Show, which airs daily on radio stations throughout the Southeast.

After the Sandy Hook massacre, Hice blamed mass shootings on America’s “kicking God out of the public square.”

“For decades here, we have been systematically kicking God out of, obviously, our schools — that began back in ’62 — we’ve been kicking God out of the schools, but we have been kicking God out of the public square,” Hice said on his radio show.

“We have been kicking God out of our entire nation,” Hice said. “We have been vilifying those who believe. Those who are the so-called Religious Right have been looked upon as nuts, as undesirables, as dangerous for our society. So God has been largely kicked out of our culture, and this is the type of thing that you get when there is the absence of God.”