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Huckabee: First Amendment ups and downs

By Melanie Bengtson
First Amendment Center Online intern

One in a series of articles on the First Amendment record and views of 2008 presidential candidates.

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has experienced an up-and-down campaign. Rising from the bottom of the polls to win the Iowa caucus in January, Huckabee has yet to earn another win despite primaries in four other states. Huckabee’s First Amendment record also has experienced highs and lows.

Before his political career, which includes a failed campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1992 and a stint as Arkansas lieutenant governor from 1993 to 1996, Huckabee was a Baptist preacher and the president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention.

As governor from 1996-2007, Huckabee tended to mix religion and politics. In one of his TV commercials during the holiday season, Huckabee told viewers “my faith doesn’t just influence me — it defines me.” While stumping in Michigan earlier this month, he said the Constitution should be amended to fit within “God’s standards” because it would be easier to change the Constitution’s standards than God’s.

However, in public appearances and on his official Web site, Huckabee espouses confidence in his understanding of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. “It’s pretty simple,” he said at the Pew Forum on Religion and the Public Life in June 2007. “No laws ever get created where one religion gets preference over another. Congress never creates a law where someone's personal religious faith gets prohibited by the government.”

In 1994, while he was lieutenant governor of Arkansas, he proclaimed a statewide “Christian Heritage Week” and as governor in 2001, he declared October to be “Student Religious Liberty Month.” After the declaration, his office sent letters to all the public school districts in Arkansas reminding officials that students could legally pray in school individually or in groups.

Huckabee issued an executive order to ensure Arkansas' compliance with federal charitable choice law that allows faith-based organizations to compete for funds from state agencies. He also publicly supported Prison Fellowship Ministries, a Bible-based program that received state funds. A federal judge ruled in 2006 that state funding of the organization violated the establishment clause.

When he came under fire for a public holiday display that contained a Nativity scene in 1998, Gov. Huckabee said there was nothing wrong with spiritual themes in public displays, commenting that “Jesus Christ is the essence of Christmas.”

While governor, Huckabee often struggled with the press. In 2002, a Democratic political consultant sued Huckabee, claiming that the governor had forced the cancellation of his talk show on the Arkansas Educational Television Network. Roby Brock, the host, had publicly criticized Huckabee at a Young Democrats rally. A federal judge later ordered that his show be restored and in July 2003, the Huckabee administration settled with Brock for $15,000.

In April 2006, Huckabee’s office stopped providing press services, including press releases and invitations to press conferences, to the Arkansas Times, an alternative weekly with a history of criticizing the governor and his administration. His press spokesperson said the governor’s office no longer considered the 28-year-old weekly a news organization.

At the September 2007 Values Voters Debate in Florida, Huckabee said he supported extending broadcast-indecency rules to cable networks.

In 2005, Huckabee fired Arkansas’ chief information officer for criticizing an administrative computer system. The officer filed suit against Huckabee, claiming that he had a constitutional right to criticize government operations even though he was a high-ranking official. A federal judge ruled that Huckabee and his staff were immune from the lawsuit.

Huckabee also faced accusations of violating the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. As he left office in 2007, 91 government hard drives were destroyed. An ongoing lawsuit alleges those actions violated the state FOIA, though a judge ruled in December 2007 that Huckabee did not have to turn over backup tapes from the destroyed hard drives. Huckabee claims that the drives were destroyed to protect sensitive information, including constituents’ and employees’ Social Security numbers and credit card information.

However, Huckabee also fought to uphold the Arkansas FOIA a number of times. In August 2002, his office announced that it would not support an effort by the Arkansas Homeland Security Council to exempt some documents from FOIA requirements. In September 2002, Huckabee released funding applications for the Delta Regional Authority that had previously been considered exempt from FOIA. When the Arkansas Emergency Management Department suggested in May 2003 that certain security materials should be kept secret from the public, Huckabee publicly opposed the idea.

During his 11 years as governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee had a varied First Amendment record. Though he advocated a blurring of church-state separation and acted combative against the press at times, Huckabee upheld the state’s FOIA laws with relative consistency, except for the hard-drive incident.

Melanie Bengtson is a junior studying political and economic development at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.


Religious symbols in public holiday displays continue to stir debate

Arkansas governor defends use of religious symbols; federal judge in Missouri orders removal of crèche from city hall. 12.10.98

How and when government can celebrate religion during holidays
Some politicians argue holiday displays can include nod to religions, despite constitutional bar against government-sponsored religion. 12.14.98

Schools, politicians mix God and country in wake of attacks
Critics worry patriotic, religious fervor might discourage people from speaking out as local governments, schools blur line separating church, state. 10.05.01

Political consultant says governor nixed public TV show
Lawsuit contends that Arkansas officials began pressuring station to punish Roby Brock after a speech critical of the governor. 04.20.02

Talk-show host wants answers from governor about possible pressure to kill program
Meanwhile, lawyer for the state doesn't dispute that Roby Brock's statements led Arkansas public TV station to yank program. 04.24.02

Arkansas public TV station must air political consultant's show
Federal judge's decision comes hours after governor testifies that he hadn't tried to have program pulled. 04.25.02

Arkansas governor must keep e-mails
Federal judge orders Gov. Mike Huckabee, public television station to retain records related to talk-show host's lawsuit. 05.24.02

Governor's office rebuffs idea of limiting Arkansas' FOI law
'[L]et me be clear on this: Your efforts to amend the FOI are NOT authorized by the governor,' Mike Huckabee's liaison tells agency director. 08.12.02

Arkansas governor allows access to funding applications
Announcement comes one day after state attorney general's office says documents must be made available for public review at state agency that created them. 09.03.02

States re-examine open-government laws
Civil libertarians, news media representatives say some proposals would close access to far more than security-sensitive information. 05.23.03

Talk-show host's suit against Arkansas governor dismissed
$15,000 in damages paid to satisfy Roby Brock's claim that Gov. Mike Huckabee tried to get state public television network to drop Brock's show. 07.15.03

8th Circuit: Fired worker can't sue Arkansas governor
Panel rejects man's claim that he had right to retain position as policy-making state officer while publicly criticizing the governor. 01.12.05

Bible-based prison program unconstitutional, federal judge rules
Americans United applauds ruling in Iowa case, awaits decision in similar Pennsylvania dispute. 06.05.06

Ark. governor told to hand over records to newspaper
Documents about resignation of parole-board member are to remain under seal while state decides whether to appeal Pulaski County Circuit judge's ruling. 06.05.06

Huckabee faces lawsuit over destruction of hard drives
Self-described gadfly accuses former Arkansas governor, presidential hopeful of violating state Freedom of Information Act. 08.01.07

Judge rejects part of suit involving Huckabee, hard drives
Arkansas county judge denies Freedom of Information Act claim against former governor, now a GOP presidential candidate. 12.21.07

Crèches and Santa on the courthouse lawn
By Douglas Lee A Nativity scene that includes Santa and Frosty is still an insult to the First Amendment — and to Christianity too. 12.24.98

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