Today Republican candidate Mitt Romney made his case for being a Mormon elected as President. While I do not agree with many of Romney’s positions it was a very interesting speech. It has been a long time since a major candidate has been in the position of standing up in front of America and justifying his religious faith. He may even make some progress with the Evangelical elements in the GOP. Although, it is unlikely that even with this speech they will be truly happy with him as a candidate.
Romney made sure to play up to the concerns of the intended audience. He spent plenty of time wrapping himself in the flag and proclaiming his faith. He was not really trying to convince proponents of a secular society that he was the right guy. Although he did state that the his church ties would not have authority in regards to his actions as President. Rather he focused on making sure that it was clear that he shared moral values with the the religious right despite differing faiths. Romney did not really discuss Mormonism and said that a candidate should not be the spokesman for his faith. In fact, he only used the word “Mormon” once in the whole 20 minute speech. He made it clear that he felt that faith and religion had a very large role to play in American society. This was tempered somewhat by stating that no religion should dictate to the state.
Romney makes the common conservative argument that working to maintain the separation of church and state is really an effort to remove religion entirely form the public discourse and replace it with a secular religion. While I think he is wrong in this assessment he did temper it throughout his speech by referring to the freedom to practice divergent faiths including presumably his own. Unfortunately, there did not seem to be a lot of room in Romney’s vision of America for non-believers “freedom requires religion” or for faiths that are not rooted in Judaism, Christianity or Islam as they received even less attention than his own Mormon faith.
Despite all the efforts to make the evangelicals happy and the promises a faith based presidency he did make a couple statements that were very interesting considering the primary target of the speech.
Early on in the speech Romney states, “Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed, if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.” This might have just been calculated attempt to get the the evangelicals who will never support him to think differently about their position. Later in his speech he returns to the theme talking about the lack of religious tolerance of the original colonists who had just fled persecution. However, even if it was simply an attempt to shame evangelicals into supporting him there is a great deal of truth there. To support religious freedom means that freedom needs to apply to everyone, including those without faith.
Towards the end of the speech Romney states, “We face no greater danger today than Theocratic Tyranny.” Of course, he was referring to the dangers posed to the world by radical Islam. The statement itself is true beyond its intended scope. It condemns the goals of all who would use religion to justify limiting freedoms and committing acts of violence in the pursuit of power. An American Theocracy would be no more benign than the Islamic theocracies around the world.