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Huckabee's Perilous Perception Of Souls

A Commentary by Froma Harrop

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

In 1996, then-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee reportedly pressured a parole board to release a sexual predator from jail. Wayne DuMond had 25 years left on his long sentence for the 1984 rape of a teenager. His claim to have found God apparently helped open the prison doors.

A Baptist minister, Huckabee wrote DuMond a letter: "Dear Wayne, My desire is that you be released from prison. I feel that parole is the best way for your reintroduction to society to take place."

A free man, DuMond proceeded to murder a woman in Missouri.

Huckabee has put pastoral credentials high on his list of qualifications to be president. They suggest high morals and for many religious conservatives, a Christian perspective. But as the DuMond fiasco shows, faith-based decision-making may not produce the kind of conclusions one wants from a political leader.

There's been much speculation that Huckabee's concern for DuMond's social development may have masked a political calculation. The 17-year-old victim was Bill Clinton's third cousin and her father a contributor to Clinton campaigns. DuMond had thus become a pet right-wing cause. One DuMond champion, New York Post columnist Steve Dunleavy, called his imprisonment "a travesty of justice."

The Arkansas Prosecuting Attorneys Association wrote a letter opposing clemency for the rapist. Huckabee reportedly threatened to frustrate the group's legislative agenda if it went public with the criticism.

Huckabee had also slashed the prison sentence of a wealthy Republican contributor who had been convicted four times in five years of drunk driving. Back on the roads, the man was arrested again, inebriated, after crossing the center line of a highway and barely missing an oncoming police car.

Let us assume that Huckabee genuinely believed in the power of redemption for DuMond. After all, he had pardoned or commuted the sentences of 1,000 prisoners, including 12 murderers.

The release of a violent offender based on his tale of religious conversion (or in this case, a fellow Baptist minister's claim of such) -- rather than on available evidence -- is inexcusable. It speaks of arrogance and laziness. Clergymen, like psychiatrists, often flatter themselves into believing that their magic has turned around the hardest cases. "Faith" becomes a shortcut for researching the reality of things.

We saw the hazards of gut judgments after President Bush's June 2001 meeting with Vladimir Putin. Bush announced that he had looked the Russian president in the eye and "was able to get a sense of his soul." The remark was embarrassing then, and as history has shown, ludicrously wrong.

We should not leave this topic without mentioning the separation of church and state, as required in the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause forbids the preference of one religion over another. Huckabee's application of his religious outlook -- and that of fellow Baptist ministers -- to the delivery of justice seems to cross the line.

Suppose DuMond had declared that, rather than finding Jesus, he had been cured by Zen meditation, or had found his spiritual footing in the Navajo tradition. Suppose he had converted to Islam. Would Huckabee have been so keen to push for his parole? I doubt it.

Religion, like other aspects of one's upbringing and education, does color a candidate's world view. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as it isn't used to cut corners in making important judgments.

In the end, a con conned Huckabee with a carefully tailored religious appeal. That does not build confidence in the candidate's ability to navigate a complex planet full of complicated people. One fears to speculate on whose souls Huckabee might plumb, and how his quick readings could alter history.

COPYRIGHT 2008 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

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