Romney Declares Religious Freedom for Me, Not Thee
Mitt Romney's new ad accusing President Obama of declaring a "war on religion" with the Affordable Care Act isn't without risks for the Republican presidential nominee. Even leaving aside the over-the-top hyperbole, it turns out that Romney put similar contraception policies in place during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts. But much more dangerous for Romney is his de facto religious test for true membership in the American community, one in which Jews, Muslims and non-believers have second-class status--or simply no status at all.
Romney's double-standard starts with the voting bloc he has pursued most vigorously over the last month: Jewish Americans. (It is worth noting that the Romney campaign tests the fairness of press coverage by substituting "Jew" or "Jewish" for "Mormon.") While no fan of the kibbutzim so critical to the successful establishment of Israel, in Jerusalem and again on the pages of the National Review Mitt insisted "culture makes all the difference" in understanding "the accomplishments of the people of this nation."
But in the United States, it turns out that for Mitt Romney, something else matters much more. In May, Romney explained what "it" was to the graduates of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.
During a speech in which he never mentioned the word "Mormon" (he used it once in his "Faith in America" address in 2007), Romney tried to explain to his evangelical audience "where we can meet in common purpose." Surely, Romney suggested to applause, they could agree on this (around the 9:00 minute mark):
It strikes me as odd that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with. Perhaps religious conscience upsets the designs of those who feel that the highest wisdom and authority comes from government.
But from the beginning, this nation trusted in God, not man. Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Constitution. And whether the cause is justice for the persecuted, compassion for the needy and the sick, or mercy for the child waiting to be born, there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action. [Emphasis mine.]
Romney's message--No Jesus, No Dice--must have come as a surprise to the millions of Jews, atheists, agnostics, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and myriad other non-Christians in the United States of America. But it shouldn't have.
Four and a half years ago during his much-hyped "Faith in America" speech, Romney explained that "No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith" and warned:
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution."
Sadly, Romney during his last presidential bid endorsed precisely that very religious test for followers of Islam or no faith at all.
In November 2007, the former Massachusetts Governor said as much to Mansoor Ijaz at a fundraiser in Las Vegas. As Ijaz recounted:
I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that "jihadism" is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today. He answered, "...based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."
Despite Romney's subsequent denials, Greg Sargent and Steve Benen documented other witnesses and other occasions during which Mitt repeated his No Muslims Need Apply policy.
Given his own membership in a small religious minority, one might expect more openness and tolerance from the Mormon Romney. But in 2006, Romney declared "People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president." In December 2007, Governor Romney upped the ante by insisting "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom." And in his "Faith in America" speech that month, Mitt seemingly added atheists to his list of those to be excluded from the American community (around the 7:30 mark):
"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims."
(Just as long as those frequent prayers weren't going to be heard in President Romney's Cabinet Room.)
That nonbelievers had no place in leading Mitt Romney's America was remarked upon by conservative commentators at the time. While Ramesh Ponnuru of the National Review asked "what about atheists and agnostics?" David Brooks of the New York Times concluded that Romney "asked people to submerge their religious convictions for the sake of solidarity in a culture war without end." Former Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wondered:
"Why did Mr. Romney not do the obvious thing and include them? My guess: It would have been reported, and some idiots would have seen it and been offended that this Romney character likes to laud atheists. And he would have lost the idiot vote."
And as Mitt Romney decided during his first run for the White House, you can't win the Republican nomination if you lose the idiot vote. So he dumbed down his own faith to make it more palatable to the GOP's evangelical base, much to the consternation of his fellow Latter Day Saints. The New Republic's Josh Patashnik explained Mitt's quandary back in November 2007:
During an interview earlier this year with George Stephanopoulos, the presidential candidate disputed the suggestion that Christ would someday return to the United States rather than the Middle East. Mormons, he said, believe "that the Messiah will come to Jerusalem. ... It's the same as the other Christian tradition."
This was both technically correct and completely misleading: The church's position is that, while Christ will indeed appear at the Mount of Olives, he will also build a new Jerusalem in Jackson County, Missouri, which will serve as the seat of his 1,000-year reign on Earth. Romney had conveniently neglected to mention this part of his church's doctrine.
Needless to say, his fellow Mormons were none too pleased. "Brother Romney is playing a little bit of a political game with his answer," one church official told Lee Benson of the Deseret Morning News--in a column noting that Romney's comment had "caused more than a few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints ... to scratch their heads as if to say, 'What the flip?'" Callers to a Utah talk-radio show lambasted the candidate for misrepresenting church teachings. And the Mormon blogosphere--known as the Bloggernacle--buzzed with discussion of the quote. One post on the blog Mormon Mentality condemned Romney for being "evasive," while another complained, "If he were so proud to be a Mormon, he should tell the truth."
Mitt Romney has repeatedly said he is proud to be a Mormon. But he is apparently far more frightened of not becoming President of the United States. And that truth means that only by accident will Romney tell the truth about what he really thinks about America's diverse religions, including his own.
So when his new ad asks, "When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?" There can be only one answer.
Not Mitt Romney.