This holiday season, as the Republican candidates try to out-holier-than-thou one another before the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary, consider which would be the scarier scenario: President Mitt Romney, defender of Mormonism, a faith embedded with a long and recent history of racism. Or President Mike Huckabee, exiler of AIDS victims, discriminator of gays and lesbiansand gladiator for the Character Cities program.

Thankfully no Character Cities exist (yet) in North Carolina, but there are 172 nationwide, plus 37 counties and nine statesincluding Huckabee’s own promised land of Arkansasthat have signed up to be among God’s chosen units of government.

The International Association of Character Cities is the so-called secular front for the fundamentalist Institute in Basic Life Principles. The Illinois-based enterprise (with $80 million in annual revenues) is run by Christian evangelist Bill Gothard. Huckabee has acknowledged attending the institute’s Basic Seminar, which is intended to “help you see life from God’s perspective.”

Huckabee is quoted on the institute Web site discussing character training for inmates: “I am confident that these are some of the best programs available for instilling character into the lives of people.”

Unless you’re an inmate in a women’s prison in New Mexico, where you would have been required to read institute workbooks stating even if authority is wrong or corrupt you must obey itsuch as an abusive security guard.

Gothard also has used a supportive letter from then Gov. Huckabee to market the Character City program.

I once visited a Character CityBurleson, Texasto write a story for the Texas Observer. The trip began with a surreal character parade through downtown, followed by a meeting of the Character Council, which convened in City Hall, and ended with a city councilman’s remark: “There is no such thing as separation of church and state.”

Such is the dubious constitutional ground occupied by the Character City. According to the program, there are 49 character traits, and government officials are to tuck a note about these attributes, which adherents acknowledge are based on “biblical principles,” into employees’ paychecks, post them on government office bulletin boards, and hire and fire workers based on a rigid definition of character. Here is how the character guide defines loyalty: “I will not mock authorities.” Obedience: “I will obey my authorities immediately.” Persuasiveness: “Guiding vital truths around another’s roadblocks.”

This sounds like an authoritarian theocracy, and Huckabee’s support of the institute and the Character City program is alarming.

And just imagine what Huckabee’s health care policy would entail. The Character City program guide states the trait Enthusiasm “acts as a natural medicine that builds strong and thick bones.”