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What Bothers Me About the "Issue" of Romney's Mormonism

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I wrote and initially posted this piece last night --i.e. December 5th, the day before Romney's speech on the subject-- and didn't know that Romney himself would be making a similar point about the "no religious test" phrase that appears in the Constitution. So this piece wasn't, at the time of its posting, the "Me, too" statement it might appear to be in the wake of Romney's speech addressing his "Mormonism issue."

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Let me say at the outset that I do not like Romney as a candidate. The eagerness with which he has made fascist noises --wishing we could double Gitmo, for example-- in order to out-Bush the Bushites and thus, presumably, appeal to the Republican base, has repelled me. And I don't believe that his switches on policy issues --from when he was trying to appeal to the voters of liberal Massachusetts to now when he's trying to appeal to the national Republican base-- is due to any sincere conversion experience, or to anything other than a consistent ambition to gain powerful office through the election process.

But it bothers me that Romney's Mormonism is the issue for some voters --Christian conservatives, according to the reports-- that it evidently is. Not because I favor Romney but because I am concerned about the integrity of America's constitutional democracy.

Our Founders had rather little to say about religion in the Constitution, other than the first amendment's assurance of religious liberty to all citizens and its saying that government should stay out of the religion business (the "establishment" clause).

And one more thing. The Constitution says:

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.


Which means that our Founders did not want office-holders to have to meet any particular religious standard in order to qualify for those offices.

Making an issue of Romney's Mormonism strikes me, therefore, as running contrary to the intent of our Founders for how we are to think about a person's qualifications for office.

I can understand how voters, when considering a candidate who belongs to a hierarchical religion, might wish to be assured that, if elected, the candidate would not be himself governed by any authority above him in that religious hierarchy. This was the assurance that John F. Kennedy gave the country when he ran for the presidency in 1960. And if people wanted to hear any such assurance from Romney, it wouldn't offend me.

Nor would it bother me if people looked to a candidate to see whether his religion had implications for his positions on public policy, and opposed that candidacy if those positions differ from their own.

But as far as I can tell, no one among the conservative Christians objecting to Romney's Mormonism has pointed out any way that his religion has implications for policy that would differentiate Romney from a conservative Baptist or any other conservative Christian denomination. It would appear that their objection is focused specifically on religious belief itself. They don't like the idea of a president whose theology is different from theirs.

In my view, in the light of what our Founders wrote into the Constitution about "religious tests," that objection is unAmerican.

This strikes me as yet another instance of a larger phenomenon that disturbs me even more deeply: that a whole swath of people in America have so little regard for, or understanding of, what America is about, what it has been about since its inception.

Over the years, opinion pollsters have reportedly found a great many Americans, upon reading our Bill of Rights out of its hallowed context, are inclined to condemn it as pernicious and subversive agitprop. We've wondered here why it is that so many so-called patriots can be so apparently indifferent to presidential assaults on our Constitution. Once again, I'm saying that "true patriotism" involves an embrace of the heart and soul of America --its defining document with its structures attempting to assure liberty and justice for all--and not of the flag that merely stands for that heart and soul.

America was defined most emphatically not to be a dictatorship, and not to be a theocracy.

To those who fail to grasp what this country is about, but who declare themselves to be the greatest patriots, I say: You can be in favor of a theocracy or a dictatorship, or you can be lovers of America, but you cannot be both.

 

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
 

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