Austria Protestant leaders slam Hofer over 'God' slogan

Norbert Hofer Image copyright EPA
Image caption Norbert Hofer's party said the slogan came from the heart

Christian leaders in Austria have criticised a far-right presidential candidate for invoking the name of God in a political campaign slogan.

Norbert Hofer's new slogan translates as "So help me God" which his party says reflects "a strong anchorage in Christian and Western values".

But leaders from Protestant churches said God was the defender of the weak, "who today include refugees".

Mr Hofer's Freedom Party has campaigned against immigration.

The Christian leaders - not including the country's dominant Catholic Church - also said God was not Western, but universal.

'Political interests'

"God cannot be manipulated for personal intentions or political purposes," Bishop Michael Buenker said in a joint statement with other Protestant leaders (in German).

"We consider that mentioning God for one's own political interests and using him along with reference to the Christian West to indirectly attack other religions and cultures amounts to an abuse of his name and of religion in general.

"We reject the use of God for political campaigning."

In response, Mr Hofer tweeted the lyrics to the Austrian national anthem (in German), which mention God, a picture of a US dollar note bearing the slogan "In God we trust" and a picture of the cover of a book about German Chancellor Angela Merkel, entitled So wahr mir Gott helfe.

Mrs Merkel used the optional phrase at her swearing-in ceremony. It is the exact same slogan as Mr Hofer used, and translates to "So help me God".

Image copyright Facebook/ Norbert Hofer

Mr Hofer is facing an independent Green-backed candidate, Alexander van der Bellen, in an election which is being rerun because of procedural irregularities. If he wins, he will become the first far-right head of state in Europe since the EU was founded.

In May, he lost by 31,000 votes to Mr van der Bellen, but the Freedom Party's claim of procedural irregularities was upheld in court and the election will be re-run in December. The re-run had to be postponed after an October attempt was curtailed due to postal vote envelopes not being sticky enough.

The Freedom Party said Mr Hofer's slogan had come directly from his heart.

Party official Herbert Kickl said the phrase was "in no way a misuse of the concept of God" and that mentioning God was "deeply rooted in our tradition and culture".

His other slogans included "Norbert Hofer: for Austria with heart and soul".

Mr Hofer was born into a Roman Catholic family but has since become a Protestant. His wife and children are Catholic.

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