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Too much religion on campaign trail?

Candor about faith marks this presidential election season. Critics say a line is being crossed.

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Presidential candidates of both parties have talked more openly about their religious beliefs this year than in elections past, lifting a window on some of the values that could shape their decisions in the Oval Office. But the political benefits of such candor are not always clear in a country where most Republicans and Democrats believe in separation of church and state.

A holiday campaign ad featuring Republican Mike Huckabee, in a red sweater by a Christmas tree as "Silent Night" tinkles in the background, may be the latest example. Though Mr. Huckabee's courtship of conservative Christians has siphoned support from Mitt Romney and helped vault him to the top of the polls in Iowa in advance of the Jan. 3 caucuses, his overtly Christian ad has drawn fire from across the political spectrum. [Both men are profiled, along with other major presidential contenders, in the Monitor series "The Candidates: Faith & Values," at right.]

In the 30-second commercial, Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, wished viewers "Merry Christmas" instead of an ecumenical "happy holidays" and said "it's nice to pull aside" from politics and "just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and friends."

To some, the spot was no more offensive or profound than a Hallmark card. But the former Arkansas governor found himself defending it against criticism that its mix of faith and politics went too far.

"You can find Santa at every mall. You can find discounts in every store," Huckabee told worshippers Sunday at an evangelical megachurch in San Antonio, Texas, according to the Associated Press. "But if you mention the name of Jesus, as I found out recently, it upsets the whole world. Forgive me, but I thought that was the point of the whole day."

Not everyone saw it that way. The liberal blog wonkette.com mocked the ad as a "subliminal floating Christmas cheer," a reference to the Cross-like image formed by the brightly lit edges of a bookshelf behind Huckabee. Kathryn Jean Lopez, writing in the conservative National Review, accused Huckabee of "using Christ and Christmas to change the subject away from policy and [his] record."

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