On Tuesday, Cathedral Age, a magazine produced by the Washington National Cathedral, published its interviews with President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. In "Faith in America," the quarterly asked each candidate questions about their perspectives on the role of religion in the public life of the nation. While Obama unsurprisingly praised the separation of church and state "embraced by people of faith and those of no faith at all throughout our history," Romney didn't merely claim that some "seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgement of God." Doubtless to the dismay of millions of non-Christian Americans, Romney once again proclaimed, "there is no greater force for good in the nation than Christian conscience in action."
As explained on its website, the Washington National Cathedral isn't just "a great and beautiful edifice in the city of Washington," but hopes to provide an indispensable ministry for people of all faiths and perspectives." Unfortunately, former bishop and stake president Romney didn't read the memo. Asked how the Cathedral can live out its calling to be the spiritual home for the nation, the same Mitt Romney who recently ran an ad denouncing President Obama's mythical "war on religion" responded in part:
From the beginning this nation trusted in God, not man.Religious liberty is the first freedom in our Bill of Rights. 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]If that sounds familiar, it should. As it turns out, Mitt Romney just copied and pasted the same offensive passage from his May commencement address at Liberty University.
During that 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 audience "where we can meet in common purpose." Surely, Romney suggested to applause from his listeners in the crowd and among the GOP's evangelical base, they could agree on this (around the 9:00 mark above):
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.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. As a review of his record shows, Romney for years has had a de facto religious test for true membership in the American community, one in which Jews, Muslims and non-believers apparently have second-class status—or simply no status at all.
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]
(Continue reading below the fold.)
As I've documented previously, 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, during his last presidential bid, Romney endorsed precisely that very religious test for followers of Islam or no faith at all.
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, Gov. 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."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.
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."
Of course, you'd never know that if you didn't get past the part of Cathedral Age interview where Romney proclaims, "Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree."
Truer words were never spoken. But whether Mitt Romney really believes them, that is, whether he thinks religious tolerance is for me and not thee, is for the voters to decide.