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Romney's Pandering Speech

Is Nothing Nonsacred on the Campaign Trail?

Statement Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor
Freedom From Religion Foundation Co-presidents

Instead of affirming the constitution's prohibition of a religious test for public office, Romney's speech pandered to the notion that candidates must be publicly pious, and fed the myth that good citizenship requires religious faith.

We've read John F. Kennedy's 1960 address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, and have to say, Mitt Romney, you're no JFK.

Romney's speech yesterday, advertised as a paean to religious liberty, was simply calculated to calm the typical fears about Mormonism held by his target audience: born-again Christians.

To be fair, not one presidential candidate today would dare repeat the hallowed words of John F. Kennedy. Today's candidates, brainwashed by religious pollsters and religious media, compete with each other to see who can wear the most religion on their sleeves. Hillary Clinton reveals how she prays to God to help her control her weight. John Edwards must grin and bear it when a CNN anchor asks him what's the biggest "sin" he's ever committed. Nothing is nonsacred on the campaign trail. When a ranting man at the recent Utube/CNN debate demanded that GOP candidates pledge that they believe in the bible literally, the candidates pretty much obliged him.

Who out there among today's presidential candidates would dare say:

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, . . .

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace. . ."

That America doesn't exist today. Churches are granted public funds and political preference. No candidate has openly criticized Bush's "faith-based initiative," which has no accountability or oversight. Catholic schools are the main beneficiaries of the limited voucher programs now in place. The Pope openly dictates to Catholic politicians and voters, threatening their eternal souls. Bush, a Methodist, actually flew to the Vatican during his 2004 reelection campaign asking the Pope to fire up the U.S. bishops, complaining that "not all the American bishops are with me" on social issues. (Those social issues included opposition to gay rights, which, with Roman Catholic and fundamentalist Protestant help, proved instrumental in getting out the religious-right vote in key states.)

Today we have "Patriot Pastors" overtly organizing to elect candidates from a particular party, televangelists such as the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson openly endorsing particular candidates, and religious bodies just about everywhere seeking to impose their will directly and indirectly upon the general population.

In an ideal world, the personal religious views of presidential aspirants should be a non-issue--provided those candidates agree to keep their private religious views personal. It was an embarrassing spectacle to hear a Mormon candidate parrot belief in Jesus Christ. Kennedy had the dignity not to pander.

Romney's hodgepodge speech offered a little something for everyone--except nonbelievers. Even Pres. Bush has publicly admitted that America includes nonreligious citizens. But the 14% of adults in the United States who are not religious apparently don't exist in Romney's world view. "We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust" means "we" who do not believe in a god are not part of this nation?

Those of us who are freethinkers can hardly be expected to concur with Romney's strange equation: "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. . . Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone." Huh?

Romney needs a fact-checker. He misleadingly stated that the nation's founders "sought the blessings of the Creator." There was indeed prayer at the First Continental Congress, which adopted the failed Articles of Confederation. Romney piously concluded his talk with a prayer attributed to Sam Adams from that event. But he failed to mention that there was no prayer at the constitutional convention that crafted our living and godless constitution.

After promising not to "confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution," Romney immediately vowed: "When I place my hand on the bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God." Art. II, Sec. 1 of the US Constitution, providing the presidential oath of office, contains no reference to a god or the bible. But, of course, Romney was signaling to fundamentalists that he would use their book, not the Book of Mormon.

While pretending to affirm the separation of church and state, Romney used his speech to attack it: "in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God" and to establish a "new religion in America--the religion of secularism." Secularism is not a religion--secularism is what safeguards religious freedom for all, including us dissenters, and including the nation's tiny minority of Mormon adherents.

As the difference between JFK's and Romney's speeches reveal, in recent years the notion of the separation between church and state has been debased, disrespected and routinely dissed. The deterioration since 1960 in respect for this pinnacle constitutional precept is mind-boggling.

Instead of affirming the constitution's prohibition of a religious test for public office, Romney's speech pandered to the notion that candidates must be publicly pious, and fed the myth that good citizenship requires religious faith.

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