Romney Speech on Religious Tradition in America
- 9 December 2007 by Author 0 Comments
Romney Speech on Religious Tradition in America
By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 12/09/07
There’s something very disconcerting in the realization that a candidate for the highest post in the land feels a need to make a declaration regarding his religion. After all, Article VI of the Constitution mandates that there is not to be a religious test for public office. Yet Mitt Romney, a member of the LDS Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) obviously felt compelled to make such a declaration this week.
Nearly 60 years ago, John F. Kennedy made such a speech, obviously similarly compelled to make such a statement. He said then, (I quote only portions as you will be able to ascertain that the paragraphs are not contiguous) to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September, 1960, “Because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured – perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again–not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me – but what kind of America I believe in.”
“I believe in an America where… no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”
“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew – or a Quaker – or a Unitarian – or a Baptist.”
“Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end – where all men and all churches are treated as equal – where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.”
“I ask you tonight to judge me on the basis of my record … instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic Church leaders…”
Mitt Romney, sounding rather Kennedy-esque, proclaimed in his Houston speech this week (again, I quote only portions of the text), “Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for President, not a Catholic running for President. Like him, I am an American running for President. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”
“It’s important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.”
“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion.”
“Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?
“They’re not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common. They’re the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.”
Hugh Hewitt, law professor, evangelical Christian, and conservative talk show host who wrote a book about Romney said after the historic event, “The speech will shame many critics into if not silence, at least a more guarded display of hostility to faith, while reminding millions of people of faith about the glories of religious tolerance. Rescuing the campaign of 2008 from the theological inquisition it had sometimes become will be one of the legacies of the speech, as all candidates and many commentators will now simply be able to say: ‘I agree with Romney and reject the imposition of theological litmus tests on presidential candidates.’”
Even Chris Matthews of MSNBC called it “the best speech of the campaign,” and added, “For the first time in this campaign and it has been long already, I heard greatness this morning.”
Theological differences should not be used as the basis for rejecting a candidate. Differences in values, vision for America, and positions on issues should provide the line of demarcation for whether a candidate wins our trust and our vote. Those who vote against a candidate based on religion are ignorant, bigoted, or both.
We should no more vote for or against a candidate based on their religion than we should vote for or against a candidate based on their gender or skin. The only exception I can think of is one that is antithetical to American standards of equality, liberty, and tolerance like an adherent to Shariah law that places national interests in subservience to their theology.
This is too great a country, with too many good people, to allow religious or ethnic intolerance a role in the selection of our leaders. Political parties are anxious to convince prospective voters of the breadth of their “tents,” referring to the diversity, tolerance, and disparate political views which create a composite of their respective parties. In light of that, the LDS Church must have a very broad tent of its own, to claim such political opposites as Harry Reid and Mitt Romney.
Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, and is a graduate of Idaho State University with a BA in Political Science and History and former member of the Idaho State Journal Editorial Board. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.