Religion Again Takes Center Stage in Nevada Senate Race

Religion Again Takes Center Stage in Nevada Senate Race

By Scott Conroy - August 17, 2010

In an election year in which jobs and the economy have dominated the political discourse, matters of religion have played a surprisingly overt role in one high-profile Senate race, serving as a reminder that the culture wars can still pack a punch.

When Majority Leader Harry Reid broke with President Obama on Monday by issuing a statement opposing plans for an Islamic center and mosque to be built near Ground Zero, it was only the latest case of a religious controversy being brought directly into the crosshairs of the tight Nevada Senate race.

"The First Amendment protects freedom of religion," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley. "Senator Reid respects that, but thinks that the mosque should be built some place else."

The response from prominent conservatives on Twitter was quick and unyielding as many highlighted Reid's break from the president's remarks in support of the developers' right to go forward with the mosque project and portrayed Reid as having caved in to political pressure from polls showing that a majority of voters disapprove of the controversial development plan in Lower Manhattan.

Reid's Republican opponent Sharron Angle had demanded that the Democrat take a stand on the mosque issue, and she was apparently rather pleased with where he came down. Angle tweeted on Monday, "Nice of you to join us, @HarryReid."

Angle's move to seize the offensive on the controversial mosque issue came just a couple of weeks after the Reid campaign sounded alarms over controversial comments that Angle made in June about another matter of faith and politics.

Asked during a local television interview about remarks that were attributed to her from a 1995 legislative hearing in which she was said to have deemed the concept of separation of church and state to be at odds with the Constitution, Angle affirmed that view and said that Thomas Jefferson had been misquoted on the governing philosophy that has long been attributed to him. Angle's comments were fodder to the narrative that Reid has pushed since she won the Republican nomination-that Angle's views are too far out of the mainstream.

Reid spokesman Kelly Steele issued a statement noting that Reid "is a man of faith and respects the faith of others, but he also believes it is a personal matter."

"Sharron Angle, however, has clearly stated that there is no separation between church and state, even though it is spelled out in the Constitution," Steele said.

Reid also highlighted remarks that Angle made to a Christian radio station in April that Democrats were violating the Bible's First Commandment by "trying to make government our God." When Angle's comment surfaced earlier this month, the Majority Leader's campaign said that Angle "believes she's on a religious crusade to eliminate critical programs like Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance."

A Southern Baptist, Angle has spoken frequently about how her faith has informed her political views and career path in public life. Angle's campaign clearly sees the mosque issue as an opportunity to pivot from being forced to react to Reid's suggestions that she is an extremist on matters of faith to using a hot-button religious issue against Reid, no matter its relevance to issues more directly affecting Nevadans.

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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