Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


A Religious Test?

By Shawn Healy
Some political pundits suggest that Mitt Romney's religiously-themed address scheduled for tomorrow at the Bush Library in College Station, TX, is a response to the anti-Mormon bigotry he has encountered on the campaign trail. He has been replaced by Mike Huckabee as the apparent frontrunner in Iowa, and clings to a tenuous lead in South Carolina. Both states are hotbeds of evangelical Christians who hold deep reservations about the Morman faith. In fact, polls show that Americans are much more apt to vote for an African-American or female candidate over a Morman (28% suggest they would not vote for the latter).

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 " 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?


Blogger DB said...

He might as well call it quits. First the media comparing him to Kennedy is a battle he wont win. Too much hype.

Second, this is NOT like Kennedy. Kennedy didnt have to prove his religion wasnt a cult. Kennedy had to prove his independence from the Church. Romney is in a lose-lose situation. The evangelicals will jump ship to Huck quicker now.

Perhaps the constitution says that there should be "no religious test", but the constitution also put the control of the control into the hands of the people to manage the conversation. As sad as it is, Romney will be held accountable for his beliefs whereas no one else will.

3:32 AM  

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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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