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Romney Flip-Flops on Religious Test

June 9, 2011

Unfortunately for Mitt Romney and American religious tolerance alike, a new Quinnipiac survey this week found that over a third of voters have misgivings about a Mormon President. So it came as no surprise that the Republican frontrunner told CNN's Piers Morgan, "I'm not a spokesman for my church." But Romney's declaration that he would not "apply a religious test that is simply forbidden by the constitution" may prove more problematic. After all, during his first run for the White House four years ago, Mitt Romney made clear that he had no place for Muslims in his cabinet and atheists in his American community.
Appearing on CNN, Romney pushed back against questions touching on the tenets of his faith. When Morgan asked, "What is the Mormon position on homosexuality being a sin?" Governor Romney responded:

"I'm not a spokesman for my church. And one thing I'm not going to do in running for president is become a spokesman for my church or apply a religious test that is simply forbidden by the constitution, I'm not going there. If you want to learn about my church, talk to my church."

Fours year ago during his much-hyped "Faith in America" speech, Romney similarly 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.
Years before Herman Cain suggested Muslims appointees must swear a special loyalty oath to serve in his Cabinet, Mitt Romney explained they need not apply period.
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 the next month, Romney doubled-down on his religious test during that "Faith in America" speech. The man who in 2006 declared, "People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president" in December 2007 added atheists to his list of those to be excluded from the American community:

"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 aren't heard in President Romney's Cabinet Room.
As Atrios noted at the time, it was altogether fitting that Romney was introduced that day by President George H.W. Bush, who famously stated, "No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God." The former Massachusetts Governor made much the same point in his December 2007 appeal to Iowa's evangelical voters, proclaiming simply "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."
That nonbelievers have 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."

Which sounds about right. Four years after he failed to sway a Republican primary electorate from its powerful anti-Mormon biases, Mitt Romney wants them to give him immunity from the kind of religious test he would apparently impose upon other Americans. Instead, Romney would do well to heed the words of John F. Kennedy's 1960 address to the Southern ministers:

"For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again -- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril."


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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