When Democrat Kathie Allen lost her race for Congress last November, she tweeted that she fell short because new Rep. John Curtis is Mormon and Republican, “I am neither,” and that seems “to be the only thing Utah County cares about,” where she lost big.
She apologized a few hours later. But Allen, who is now running for the state Senate, took a shot Tuesday at the religion of her new opponent, Sen. Brian Zehnder, R-Holladay, on the day he was sworn in to replace former Sen. Brian Shiozawa.
“He is a fellow family physician, but an evangelical. Not sure how he reconciles evangelism with science,” she tweeted.
It caused a quick uproar on Twitter.
“This kind of intolerance is ugly. You should apologize immediately,” tweeted the Salt Lake County Republican Party. Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, added, “Looks like @kathieallenmd continues to attack people for their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
“Attacking faith in Utah is political suicide,” tweeted Brigham Young University political science professor Adam Brown, with a drawing of someone jumping off a building.
In an interview, Allen explained why she posted the tweet — but did not apologize for it.
She and Zehnder for years were in the same group of physicians who covered for one another during off-hours or vacation — so she says she knows him well.
“All the time that I have known him he has incorporated his evangelism into his medical practice,” she said, adding, “He has an altar in the office, and they incorporate prayer into the medical practice.”
About the altar, she said, “You have to admit it’s a little bit different.”
She adds, “All my tweet was suggesting was I hope he’s not one of those evangelicals, that some of them are, that think the Earth is 4,000 years old. … You know what we know about evangelicals these days is some of them don’t respect science, and I don’t know where he draws that line. … All I was doing was wondering out loud.”
Allen said she campaigned last year saying, “We are too far away from science.”
So she adds, “If you are going to bring religious practice into medicine, I think it’s a fair question to ask how much do you believe that people are healed by science, and how much do you believe that faith heals people? I was just wondering out loud, that’s all.”
Allen said she does not belong to an organized church. “I think that my religious convictions come from a feeling that all human beings and all life is in some way interconnected and interdependent — and truly when we hurt one of us, we hurt everyone. And my ethics come out of that.”
She adds she does not question anyone’s right to practice religion as they choose. “I just wanted to point out to my supporters that this is the guy I might be running against. It just came out of my knowledge of him. I wasn’t trying to slam him.”
She adds that as far as she knows, Zehnder is “an excellent physician.”
Later in the day, Allen posted another tweet. “It would be a mistake to suggest that I have a hate for religion. I respect people of faith. And I expect there to be a separation of church and state. Many evangelicals reconcile faith and science successfully. I hope Dr Zehnder is among those people.”
Zehnder responded to assertions by Allen saying only, “I am a Christian. And you will know me by my love for others, and that means everyone that I meet — friends, enemies, people that love God, people that don’t love God. That’s how I’ll respond.”
He also said in a prepared statement, “I am grateful to live in a state that has such reverence for religious freedom. I have no interest in attacking anyone for their opinions, right or wrong.”
He added, “I find in my experience that when someone throws dirt, they wind up losing ground and also get dirty in the process.”
Zehnder, picked by Republican delegates when Shiozawa stepped down early to take a job out of state, will face election in November. His Senate District 8 is considered one of few truly competitive districts in the state.