Republican secretary of state candidate Dan Severson, a legislator making his first statewide bid, says that the concept of church and state separation "does not exist in America...because we are a Christian nation."

A state representative from Sauk Rapids, Severson made his remarks recently on a Christian radio talk show and elaborated on them later in an interview. His comments come as he nears an election showdown Nov. 2 with DFL incumbent Mark Ritchie, for an office that oversees elections.

On Wednesday, Severson also accused Ritchie of not being aggressive enough in responding to allegations of voter fraud, and he wants to require people to show photo identification at polls to demonstrate they're eligible to vote.

He contends that in the controversial 2008 U.S. Senate recount, Ritchie did not do enough to make sure felons did not vote, that the election was plagued by fraud and that Minnesota Supreme Court erred in helping establish a recount procedure. "There never was a full recount that was established," Severson said in an interview.

Ritchie did not respond to questions about Severson's comments.

But DFL spokesperson Kristin Sosanie said Severson's claims of voter fraud are "just wild accusations" unsupported by reviews of the recount. "It was nationally recognized as an example of how things should work," she said.

Although Republicans have questioned whether vote fraud occurred in the 2008 Senate election, former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, who lost a recount, did not raise fraud as an issue during a trial over the election result.

Sosanie called Severson's comments on separation of church and state "baffling."

'No such thing'

Severson's position on separation of church and state surfaced last week on KKMS-AM, during "The Word of Truth" radio show, in a conversation with Pastor Brad Brandon of the Berean Bible Baptist Church in Hastings. Brandon was in the news lately for endorsing candidates from his pulpit on Sunday.

"Quite often you hear people say, 'What about separation of church and state?'" Severson said on the show. "There is no such thing."

"We are a nation based on Christian principles and ideals, and those are the things that guarantee our liberties...when you begin to restrict our belief and our attestation to our Christian values you begin to restrict our liberties."

"You simply cannot continue a nation as America without that Christian base of liberty," Severson said.

In an interview Wednesday, Severson said the First Amendment's prohibition on Congress establishing a religion or preventing its practice "doesn't say that religion cannot influence government. It was always intended."

The issue surfaced this week on the national stage when Christine O'Donnell, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate in Delaware, asked in a radio debate, "Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?"

Pat Doyle • 651-222-1210