Romney’s “Faith in America”

It surprises me that commentators have not focused on an astounding passage in Mitt Romney’s speech on religion: “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” On the contrary, freedom requires nothing more nor less than freedom — the freedom to believe as one chooses, or not to believe as one chooses.

Freedom does not require religion. The Founders, many of whom were secularists by today’s standards, were publicly indifferent to religion, referring only to the vague comforts of a “divine Providence” and scrupulously avoiding parading their religious beliefs in public discourse. In fact the Founders were urban, cosmopolitan and rational, entirely opposed to the rural fundamentalists of that time who called their movement the “Great Awakening.”

When Mr. Romney says that no one should be elected President because of his faith, or rejected because of it, he is simply being hypocritical. Mr. Romney seems to want to have it both ways — to get credit for his religious faith but to keep the specifics of his creed out of bounds. His real point seems to be not that there should be no religious test for public office, but rather that the bar should be set so that he can pass it.

Public morality — a basic respect for others, for the environment, for truth, and for the law — can arise from many sources, not just from religion. A candidate’s commitment to this public morality should be ascertained by reference to his deeds, not the particular pieties to which he adheres. Indeed, religion has often served to divert attention from the candidate’s lack of public morality. Campaigning on the basis of faith opens the door to voting on the basis of the popularity of the candidate’s religion and the height of the stack of Bibles on which he swears the oath of office.

If a candidate wants his faith or that of his opponents not to be a factor in the election, he should not discuss it. The Constitution, and the interests of the religious and irreligious alike, would be best served if we elected a president without ever knowing his or her religion.

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