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StarBulletin.com

Attacks on Aiona unfair but raise point on religion


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POSTED: Friday, May 07, 2010

The state Democratic Party has entered a danger zone in alleging a connection between an international evangelical group with anti-homosexual activities in Uganda, and an activist organization's effort to link Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona to the evangelical group is even more reckless. The party should limit resolutions to those that are factually based — even as the episode shows that the separation between church and state can be a fine line indeed.

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a resolution last month calling on members of the Uganda parliament to reject a heinous bill that would extend penalties for homosexuality to include the death penalty. Gays now face imprisonment in Uganda.

The Democratic Party's Oahu County Convention last Saturday approved a resolution asserting that the International Transformation Network is trying to make Christianity a "state-sponsored religion" in Hawaii and "played a significant role organizing and inspiring Ugandan legislators" who drafted the anti-homosexual bill.

The Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church went a step further two days later, issuing a news release linking Aiona, now running for governor, to the evangelical network and its Hawaii chapter, Transformation Hawaii. While Aiona served as honorary chairman of a Transformation Hawaii rally at the Waikiki Shell in 2005, he participates in many community and faith-based gatherings and "supports people of all religious faiths," his campaign explained. Mayor Mufi Hannemann and the late Kauai Mayor Brian Baptiste also attended the rally.

Honolulu architect Francis Oda, chairman of the Transformation Networks' Global Council, said it helped fix roadways and repaired a medical clinic in Uganda.

"We don't get involved with their internal politics," he told the Star-Bulletin's Susan Essoyan. "We work with Muslim countries, Christian countries. We are trying to help people at the grass-roots level."

In fact, the ITN is said to have closed its office in Uganda long before the anti-homosexual bill was introduced.

Aiona, a Catholic, has publicly embraced religion for years — and eyebrows were rightly raised five years ago when he claimed that "Hawaii belongs to Jesus." He has said that his religion "gives me energy and passion to live my life."

Such public religious passion can be risky in politics, especially in what the Democratic resolution describes as the nation's most religiously diverse state. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano, a lawyer, has said it is "pretty obvious" that Aiona "is an evangelical Christian who has a tough time separating church and state."

That is a legitimate issue. Aiona, a former assistant city prosecutor and state judge, said, "I have spent my entire adult life upholding and defending the Constitution, including the separation between church and state."

He, and other politicians, will need to keep that in mind, especially heading into an election season where moral values, for instance, may be misguidedly mistaken for civil rights.