A Religious Test?
The speech is positioned as “an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected.” It is drawing inevitable comparisons to JFK's similar address 47 years ago 90 miles down the road in Houston when the Democratic nominee championed the religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Kennedy, of course, was the first and only Catholic president in American history, and despite its standing as the most popular denomination, only one other Catholic has received a major party presidential nomination (Al Smith from the Democrats in 1928).
Romney is not even the presumptive nominee, and his challenge is greater given the fact that he has positioned himself as the conservative alternative to Giuliani. He is competing for the same voters as Huckabee, social conservatives who call for the restoration of faith in the public square. Romney claims the speech, titled "Faith in America, is not about Mormonism, but the importance of religion on a broader level. Unfortunately, he's preaching to the proverbial choir here.
Instead, Romney should reference the U.S. Constitution. Article VI, Section Three mandates "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." It is unfair for voters to blatantly disregard this constitutional protection, and Romney should make this known.
Short of shaming religious bigots, Mitt could do us all a great favor by illuminating his faith. For most of us, the Church of Latter Day Saints is shrouded in mystery. Romney held the equivalent position as a Catholic bishop and is by every measure a man of his faith. Given his political prominence and silky smooth demeanor, Mitt is made for this mission (pardon the metaphor). In so doing, he follows in the footsteps of another Massachusetts politician who celebrated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, and pledged not to violate the Establishment Clause.
The brilliance of the Constitution and the First Amendment as they relate to religion is the tolerance both provide for men and women of all denominations. They enabled Muslim Representative Ellison to take his oath of office on Jefferson's Koran, Jewish Justice Brandeis to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Catholic Kennedy to bring Camelot to the White House. For Romney's Mormon faith, they allowed a uniquely American religion to flourish despite violent challenges along the way.
America awaits its 2007 refresher on the importance of religious liberty. Is Mitt fit for the billing?