WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican Mike Huckabee said Sunday he would not back down from a 1998 statement in which he said he hoped Baptists would "answer the alarm clock and take this nation back for Christ."
The ordained Baptist minister made that remark at a meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention nearly a decade ago. On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Huckabee said that "it was a speech made to a Christian gathering, and certainly that would be appropriate to be said to a gathering of Southern Baptists."
Evangelicals have been a driving force behind his rise in the polls. But with Huckabee’s ascending fortunes has come greater scrutiny of the role of religion in his campaign.
On Sunday, Huckabee tried to address those concerns, saying a person’s faith, or lack of faith, would not keep them from serving in his administration.
"The key issue of real faith is that it never can be forced on someone,” Huckabee said. “And never would I want to use the government institutions to impose mine or anybody else's faith or to restrict."
The presidential hopeful said he does not believe that women should face legal penalties for having abortions, but that the doctors who perform the procedure should.
"I don't know that you'd put him in prison, but there's something to me untoward about a person who has committed himself to healing people and to making people alive who would take money to take an innocent life and to make that life dead," Huckabee said.
The former governor also defended a 1998 book excerpt in which he said that “homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle."
“I don't know whether people are born that way,” Huckabee said. “People who are gay say that they're born that way. But one thing I know, that the behavior one practices is a choice. ...”
"But the most important thing is to find out, does our faith influence our public policy and how? I've never tried to rewrite science textbooks. I've never tried to come out with some way of imposing a doctrinaire Christian perspective in a way that is really against the Constitution. I've never done that," he added.
–CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand