By John Duffy, Commercial Appeal
March 1994 – Baptist minister-turned-lieutenant governor Mike Huckabee signed documents proclaiming February 27-March 2 “Christian Heritage Week,” a move the American Civil Liberties Union says might be unconstitutional.
Huckabee, acting governor in Gov. Jim Guy Tucker’s absence out of state, said he agrees with the ACLU in the separation of church and state doctrine, but he sees nothing wrong in the proclamation.
“You have a Black Heritage Month and that is not offensive to people who are not black, you have an Indian-American heritage (observation) that’s not offensive to people whose grandfathers were in Custer’s army,” Huckabee said. “I can’t believe anyone would object to that. It’s beyond me. If the atheists want to have a proclamation day – maybe April 1 would be a good day.”
Huckabee said he informed Tucker and his staff several weeks ago he intended to conduct a proclamation ceremony while the governor was out of state. Tucker left the state to attend the National Governors Conference in Washington and a scheduled medical checkup.
Rita Spillenger, director of the Arkansas ACLU, said of Huckabee’s intent to sign the proclamation: “It is outrageous. We are looking into legal remedies to the situation. I think the taxpayers should be outraged the lieutenant governor is abusing his power in the governor’s absence. Nobody is denying the Christian heritage of this country, but are you declaring this is therefore a Christian country?”
She said the effort was part of, “a whole movement on the radical right trying to prove this is really a Christian country.”
Attorney Brenda Vassaur Taylor of Altheimer, Arkansas, said she asked Huckabee to sign the proclamation. She said others were involved in the effort, but that it was not an organized group.
“The purpose would be to give an opportunity for school students and adults to look at the founding fathers,” she said.
Taylor said she never learned in her history classes that the founders of the United States and of Arkansas praised God so often in their political writings.
The proclamation quotes the Arkansas Constitution’s preamble that says the people of the state are “grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government.” It also quotes Benjamin Franklin, who cited Psalm 127 in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and George Washington, who said the country was, “animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity.”
Catherine Millard, an author and founder of Christian Heritage Tours in Washington, said 13 other states – including Tennessee, Texas and Missouri – have authorized similar proclamations. Spokesmen for the governors of Texas and Missouri said their proclamations declared a week in the fall as Christian Heritage Week.