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One Nation, Without Irony

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Ah, it might finally be dawning on the Religious Right that perhaps they should be careful what they wish for. Mitt Romney’s speech to the nation concerning religion, puts him in an awkward position, as a Religious Right wannabe, and a member of a minority religion. It is a position that says, sure I believe in religious freedom, as long as my government surrounds me with the kind of religion I’m comfortable with. After all, we can’t have too much tolerance!

speech today probably did an excellent job of reassuring the Republican base that he shares their particular brand of hypocrisy on religion. It’s remarkable that he was able to deliver his lines without a hint of irony.

Romney applauds freedom of religion - as long as you agree to pick one - religion, that is. (I wonder if Romney envisions a nation where the government asks you to choose from a pre-approved menu). Indeed he seems oblivious to the contradiction inherent in his declaration that “freedom requires religion.“ He declares the irrelevance of which religion he follows, to his fitness for public office, while rushing to show his commonality with the fundamentalists he wishes to woo. The doors of tolerance should swing open just wide enough for him, but shut tightly behind, lest those of lesser beliefs be included in the American family.

He embraces the separation of church and state affairs, but insists we need to have nativity scenes and menorahs on public property. (Of course, the display of the symbols of more obscure religions, some of which do not include the construct of a personal God, is not worth considering.)

Interestingly, he acknowledges two facts often pointed to by proponents of church-state separation: 1) that the early colonies sought religious freedom, only to establish their own small theocracies that punished those of the “wrong” religion; and 2) that societies that lack our church-state separation, suffer a loss of interest in religion. But he fails to see the logical extension of these arguments: that to maintain the religious liberty he lauds, requires government neutrality to religion. Such neutrality should not be confused with hostility, as Romney does by dismissing it as the establishment of “secularism.”

And what exactly does it mean to “acknowledge the Creator … in the teaching of our history?” And if the Constitution rests on a foundation of faith, as Romney claims, how come it makes no mention of God, Jesus, or any particular religion?

It’s particularly revealing that Romney scoffs at those who are too “’enlightened’” to go to church, apparently oblivious to the
influence of the ideas of the Enlightenment on our Founders.

It must be nice to be able to benefit from Right Wing intolerance, always secure in the knowledge that you can pick from the tree of progressive notions of liberty, whenever it suits your personal circumstances.

Those who practice this liberty of convenience, need to ask themselves some simple questions. If their vision of the role of religion in public life is to withstand the true test of liberty, then it should work for religions they’re uncomfortable with, as well as with those they are comfortable with - including the choice of no religion. So, if Romney welcomes crèches and menorahs on his public square, how would he feel about symbols of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc? How about the teaching of “great atheists in U.S. history?”

Romney may have succeeded in concealing the profound irony of his predicament, illustrated by his claim that “Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.” Someone needs to tell him that religious liberty means religious liberty for all - not just those who kneel in prayer.



Amy Fried is the author of "Escaping Dick Cheney's Stomach." She received her Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior, and has been an advocate for church-state separation and other civil liberties issues. She writes on women's issues, media, veganism and (more...)

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