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Nikki Haley Under Fire, Stresses Christian Faith Over Sikh Heritage

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South Carolina's Sarah Palin-approved Republican primary candidate for governor, Nikki Haley, seems to be trying to highlight her belief in Jesus while playing down the Sikh religion of her family in an effort to overcome damaging allegations of extramarital affairs and punishing attacks from her political foes.

On Wednesday, a state lobbyist who had been attached to a rival political campaign became the second man to claim that he had a tryst with the 38-year-old Haley, while a longtime Republican state senator, Jake Knotts, who supports Haley rival Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, called Haley a "raghead."

Knotts later said the reference (which he also used about President Barack Obama) was "intended in jest." Knotts is likely to survive the kerfuffle over his slur, however, while Haley's political future is very much in doubt.

Haley, a mother of two who has been married for 13 years, has strongly denied the adultery allegations but the damage they have done to her poll numbers may explain why Haley has begun to massage her public profile to put a greater emphasis on her Christian faith and, it seems, to play down her Sikh background.

Haley, a state representative, was born in South Carolina to Sikh immigrants from India. Sikhism, which is now the fifth-largest religion in the world, originated in 15th-century India, in the Punjab region. Like many Eastern religions, it stresses a philosophical and meditative approach to religious practice and does not promote the idea of a personal God.

Haley converted to Christianity when she was 24 -- she is a Methodist -- but as CBN's David Brody shows in a detailed accounting of Haley's religious makeover, until recently she stressed her Sikh roots and even the fact that she still attended both a Methodist church and a Sikh temple.

Her 2004 campaign for the Legislature, for example, played up her Sikh upbringing, as Brody notes, saying that "Nikki was proudly raised with her Indian traditions and her husband, Michael, was brought up in the Methodist faith" -- no mention of her Christianity. Brody also pointed out that newspapers at the time ran headlines such as the one declaring Haley was "The First Member Of The Sikh Religion To Join A State Legislature In The United States."

These days, Nikki Haley is making no mention of her Sikh religious upbringing, noting only that her parents are Indian-born. And Brody also discovered that Haley's official website recently modified its description of her religious beliefs to reflect a more explicit and enthusiastic embrace of Christianity.

In April, this is how Haley's website answered the question about whether she is a Christian -- something she has often had to do given her background, much as Obama did:
Truth: Nikki is a Christian. In her words: "I believe in the power and grace of Almighty God. I know, and have truly experienced, that with Him all things are possible. I have looked to Him for leadership throughout my career and will continue to do so as governor."
As of this month, the item has been tweaked and now says:
Truth: In Nikki's words: "My faith in Christ has a profound impact on my daily life and I look to Him for guidance with every decision I make. God has blessed my family in so many ways and my faith in the Lord gives me great strength on a daily basis. Being a Christian is not about words, but about living for Christ every day."
Brody asked Haley spokesman Tim Pearson about the shift in emphasis but said Pearson didn't answer directly. He said only that Haley "attends Sikh services once or twice a year in respect for her family."

"Like millions of others, she honors her mother and her father and has great respect for their faith and the way that she was raised," Pearson said. "Her faith in Christ guides her throughout her personal, professional and public life, just as it has for many years."

Whether such professions of faith can help protect Haley against the adultery allegations -- and allow her to overcome three rivals for the Republican nomination in next Tuesday's primary -- is uncertain. She got a big boost from the Palin endorsement, but polls show her ratings have since fallen off.

On Thursday, she again denied the adultery reports and told a Columbia radio station that if she were elected governor and charges of adultery were proved she would resign the office -- which would at least be an improvement on the track record of the man she hopes to replace, Mark Sanford.

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What's really sick is that the Knott-headed state senator insults Ms. Haley and all hell breaks loose. But he also insults the President of the United States and no one blinks an eye. Guess it happens so often anymore that it isn't news any more. God help us.

June 06 2010 at 6:35 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

i thought you could choose any faith youwant in america.i have been to many churches in my time never been asked to leave any of many christians only go to church a couple of times a year,namely christmas and easter.its more how you live your life with your faith than be a hypocrite about it.

June 06 2010 at 5:38 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Another strike against the state of South Carolina's politicians. When will it end? It seems as though they like the shock value because they don't seem to be embarassed about their "anything to win" tactics.

June 06 2010 at 12:51 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
Bobby Phippers

Personally, I could care less what her religious affiliation is, or even if she had no religious affiliation at all. What I do care about, is she going to be a good leader. Will she continue down the current path of the "Party of No," or will she work with others to make positive change happen?

This country does not need another elected official that is unwilling to compromise and make positive change. We need a candidate that can find the middle ground, which is where you find most Americans today.

June 06 2010 at 12:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whatever happened of keeping politics away from religion. Now before everyone jumps on my back I am not athiest nor am i Christian. Personally I can care less what faith anyone is because it doesn't concern me. My concern is this however, since when does religion state if you can do the job you are elected for...IT DOESN'T. Everything in politics is God this God that. Just because you believe in God doesn't mean i'm going to vote for you. But I guess to the Jesus freaks its a big deal. So much for separation between church and state.

June 06 2010 at 12:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh Americans...
Politics, race, religion.
Find something better to explore.

June 06 2010 at 12:10 PM Report abuse +8 rate up rate down Reply
thom nickels

Intoning Jesus Christ just to get elected is disgusting but something Republicans do with regularity.

June 06 2010 at 12:08 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply

I would have respected her more if she had stuck with Sikhism. Most politicians who claim to be "christian" seem to be christian in only a superficial way anyways, and the ones who are hardcore christian aren't people I'd want in office.

June 06 2010 at 12:06 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

It's a shame that politicians still must conform to the "normal" christian standards in order to get elected. Even unfounded suggestions that President Obama was a Muslim cost him serious points in his election. It makes you wonder if the GOP frontrunner, Mit Romeney the only Republican who stands a legitimate chance to win the 2012 presidency can win with his public mormon background.

June 06 2010 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would like to know who is Palinm to pick anyone? If people cannot run on their own merit/experience. They certainly do not need a medling quitter like Palin to approve or disapprove. If any GOP candidate does not have the backbone to tell Palin and her Tea Bagbers to back off. They should not be wasting people's time/money to hold office. People in Nevada are beimng hoodwinked in two cases. One for US Senator and the other for Governor. In South Carolina for the Governorship pinning Religion over Politics. Palin obviously has no concept what the US constitution reads. Seraration of Church and State. Palin for all intence and purposes should fage away. Very far away............

June 06 2010 at 11:42 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to eagle6922's comment

get real........ get some clarity on seperation of church and state issue.

June 06 2010 at 1:48 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

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