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Christian group wants to 'redeem' US states

By Harriet McLeod
23 October 2005

Cory Burnell wants to set up a Christian nation within the United States where abortion is illegal, gay marriage is banned, schools cannot teach evolution, children can pray to Jesus in public schools and the Ten Commandments are posted publicly. To that end, Burnell, 29, left the Republican Party, moved from California and founded Christian Exodus two years ago with the goal of redirecting the United States by "redeeming" one state at a time.

First up for redemption is South Carolina.

Burnell hopes to move 2,500 Christians into the northern part of the state by next year and to persuade tens of thousands to relocate by 2016. His goal is to fill the state legislature with "Christian constitutionalists." The push comes at a time when Christian fundamentalism is a growing force in U.S. politics, displays of the Ten Commandments in government buildings are spurring litigation and President George W. Bush is touting the evangelical Christian credentials of Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers.

Christian Exodus officially started in May 2004, reaching people mainly through the Internet. Since then, five families and two individuals have relocated to South Carolina, Burnell said. The organization, which claims about 1,000 members, held its first conference October 15-16 to promote its agenda. About 50 people from as far away as Ohio and Oregon attended.

Burnell picked South Carolina partly for its Christian majority and conservative politics. "Historically, Southerners do have a states' rights mentality," he said. "Christians in the North are experiencing the most liberalism, or you could say persecution."

Christian Exodus hopes to throw off what it considers unconstitutional burdens imposed by the federal government. Examples, Burnell said, are federal spending on public education and the National Endowment for the Arts, and the use of the courts "to teach that Heather has two mommies. We (want to) force Washington, D.C., to reform itself by not going along with it."

The organization's Web site says if it does not meet its goal of change, it will work to secede from the United States. South Carolina was the first state to secede from the union in 1860, and the first shots of the U.S. Civil War were fired from Charleston's Battery onto Fort Sumter.

The group's reception in South Carolina has been mixed.

That is, not all civic leaders in South Carolina reject the Christian jihad.

Arthur Bryngelson, chairman of the Dorchester County Republican Party, spoke at a Christian Exodus' conference and said he would encourage Christian Exodus members to become Republicans. "I consider myself to be a fundamental Christian," he said. "I'm with (Christian Exodus) all the way up to secession. … I'm not in favor of going down to the Battery and firing on Fort Sumter again."

State Sen. Mike Fair, a Republican who described himself as "a narrow-minded, right-wing, fundamentalist fanatic," said he was suspicious of Christian Exodus. "I had huge credibility problems with them," he said. "Their plank for this perceived buckle of the Bible Belt, they're so far off the mark. I don't think they're going to get much traction."

Joel Sawyer, spokesman for Republican Gov. Mark Sanford, would not comment except to say, "We have a great state with a great quality of life that's certainly open to anyone."

Columbia attorney Herbert E. Buhl III, who does legal work for the American Civil Liberties Union, said he received "a nasty little letter ... calling me a liar" from a Christian Exodus representative. Buhl said the letter came after he had represented Wiccan Darla Wynne, who successfully sued the town of Great Falls to remove the name of Jesus Christ from pre-meeting prayers. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed in 2004 with a federal judge that the town's prayers were an unconstitutional endorsement of religion by government. "This should be a nonissue," Buhl said. "It's separation of church and state. This is black-letter law."

Copyright © 2005 Reuters Limited

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