Republicans shelve measure labeling Idaho a 'Christian state'

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 25, 2015 4:40 PM

By Laura Zuckerman

SALMON, Idaho (Reuters) - A county branch of the Republican Party in Idaho voted to shelve for now a measure that would have labeled the state as Christian to bolster what supporters called the Judeo-Christian underpinnings of the United States.

A two-thirds majority of the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee endorsed a call on Tuesday night for the non-binding resolution to be set aside.

That means the proposal, which would not have had the weight of laws or rules, is unlikely to be taken up by the committee any time soon, although supporters said on Wednesday they may seek to float a similar resolution in future.

The measure ignited a rare and emotionally charged debate in the Republican stronghold of northern Idaho, a state where Republicans have long held sway, in which opponents said they felt unjustly portrayed as anti-Christian.

Bjorn Handeen, a committee member who described himself as a Republican with libertarian leanings, said he led the fight to have the proposal shelved mostly because he did not wish to see Christianity defined by the government.

"I was worried the issue would be divisive, and it was. And I know there have been some statements of hard feelings and the claim that this was somehow a vote against Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth," Handeen said.

The proposal sought that Idaho be "formally and specifically declared a Christian state," guided by a Judeo-Christian faith reflected in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, where all authority and power is attributed to God, the resolution reads.

Backers said it was designed to address what they consider strident attacks on the Christian faith in the United States, which they say is evidenced by the absence of Christian practices and symbols in public institutions such as schools.

Supporters argued the measure aimed to stem an erosion of the morality spelled out in biblical texts, and said believers should be galvanized by the persecution of Christians in countries such as Syria where it is not the dominant religion.

"It's my belief that the trouble with our country is that God is being taken out of our government, our schools, our communities, and we are losing our moral compass," said Jeff Tyler, a member of the committee who backed the proposal.

Tyler said he might be part of an effort that could bring a similar resolution before the 70-member committee in future.   

(Reporting by Laura Zuckerman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Peter Cooney)