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Republican Lawmaker Calls Ben Chin an 'Anti-Christian Bigot'

This story contains a correction. See Editor's Note below.

AUGUSTA, Maine — For the third time this year, a Republican lawmaker in Maine has drawn fire for Facebook posts attacking political rivals on their religious choices.

In a post dated Tuesday, Republican Rep. Lawrence Lockman of Amherst describes Democratic Lewiston mayoral candidate Ben Chin as an "anti-Christian bigot."

Now Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves is demanding that Lockman apologize and resign his seat and has joined other Democrats in calling for Republican leaders to condemn what he characterizes as hate speech.

The Lewiston mayoral race has been anything but civil. Chin says he has seen his politics, his ethnic heritage and his religion used against him in ways that are setting new lows in Maine politics.

First the Maine Republican party set up a Facebook site called The Real Ben Chin, which Chin says completely distorts his Christian views. And during the mayoral campaign, a Lewiston landlord put up signs with a cartoon of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh with the warning "Don't Vote for Ho Chi Chin."

"I don't know exactly why people are choosing to come at me this way, but I do consider it to be some kind of a badge of honor," Chin says. "I think that if they really are resorting to tactics like this, I must be doing something right."

He says Lockman appears to have been expanding on a post that the GOP had on their Facebook site that contained portions of statements he had made six years ago in which he questioned the Christian church's support of policies that "dehumanize our neighbors, deny women their rights and squeeze the life out of the poor."

Chin says the website strung all of the remarks together to portray them as a continuous statement.

In his Facebook post, Lockman called on Lewiston voters in an upcoming run-off election not to vote for "an anti-Christian bigot" who "hates America, hates Americans, and hates Christians."

Chin says his beliefs have been shaped by his reading of the scriptures and as a lay Episcopal preacher and frequent sermonist at Trinity Church in Lewiston.

"Most of what the gospel is about is making sure that we love God and love our neighbors and make sure that people have the basics of what they need," Chin says. "Unfortunately a lot of religion in American life — particularly on the Christian side — has come at that from the other angle and has been twisted and used for all sorts of other causes, particularly causes that attack women's reproductive rights."

Lockman, a conservative who has come under fire in the past for his comments about abortion, rape and gays, is the third Republican lawmaker this year to become embroiled in controversy over Facebook postings.

In March, Sen. Michael Willette was forced to apologize on the floor of the House for reposting anti-Muslim messages. He subsequently voluntarily resigned his chairmanship of the State and Local Government Committee over the incident.

Last month, Fairfield Rep. John Picchiotti also apologized after admitting that he had reposted anti-Muslim remarks on his Facebook page.

"The whole thing is disgusting," says Democratic House Speaker Mark Eves. "I believe that not only should Rep. Lockman apologize — he should resign. This has no place in our public discourse. It's become commonplace in the Republican Party. It's hate speech. It needs to be called out and the Republican leaders need to do something about it."

A spokesman for the House Republican office says GOP leaders do not comment on their members' Facebook postings. GOP state chair Rick Bennett says he has not heard directly from anyone in Democratic leadership regarding the issue, but says it doesn't appear that Chin is challenging the accuracy of the information on the party's website. 

But Republican activist Lance Dutson says it's unfortunate that the party isn't taking a stronger stand against hateful statements.

"I think that really hurts all the rest of us Republicans who reject that, and my personal feeling is I don't want people to associate me with that kind of hateful rhetoric," he says. "I'm very comfortable speaking out about it and I wish the leadership of the Maine Republican Party would feel the same way. So far it's been silence and I think the Republican Party does need to step up and show that we are a party of inclusion and that we're not a party of bigots."

Jeremy Kennedy, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party, accused the GOP of promoting a culture of xenophobia and racism among its members.

Editor's Note:  This story is an updated version that corrects GOP Chair Rick Bennett’s response.