Mitt Romney Under God

By Wendy Kaminer

        Thank god for religious minorities: when members of minority faiths run for office they have little choice but to defend religious liberty and give at least a nod to separation of church and state.  Appealing to our tradition of pluralism and, like John Kennedy, promising that as president he would not take direction from his church, even Mitt Romney occasionally sounded a little like a civil libertarian in his virtually obligatory speech on faith. 

        But, while Romney’s America comprises people of many faiths, it does not include people of no faith, who constitute as much as 9% of the population, outnumbering Jews, whom Romney did bother to acknowledge, and also outnumbering Mormons.  He is hardly alone among candidates, especially among Republicans, in feeling free to disregard tens of millions of irreligious Americans, and he is enabled by the negative image of non-theists that he exploited in his speech:  Religion is the basis of morality, Romney asserted, parroting conventional wisdom that we cannot be good without god (as if people were good with god.) Religion is even essential to freedom, he declared, a “fact” that would surprise members of religious or irreligious minorities (and many women) who have the misfortune of living in theocracies.

        Romney also offered up the usual misconceptions about secularists, claiming that they want to remove religion from the public square.  In fact, secularists (some of whom are religious people who believe in secular government) do not oppose public expressions of faith: every secularist I know would defend the right to preach in the public square.  What secularists oppose is government support for public or private expressions of faith.  If a public park is also a public forum, then religious groups have the same right as non-religious groups to make speeches, hold rallies, or mount displays, like crèches, in them – so long as their activities are not funded or otherwise endorsed by government.  

        It’s true that some secularists want to remove references to god from our money and from the Pledge of Allegiance.  But, however petty and meaningless these references seem (and I am not in favor of making a federal case of them,) they do represent inappropriate government support for religious belief: a dollar bill is not the public square, and neither is an official pledge of fealty to the nation.

        These are not such subtle distinctions, but Romney is not alone in ignoring them; and the hypocrisy of his call for tolerance is likely only to be noticed by those secularists and non-theists who are targeted by his intolerance.  To many of us, it will be clear that Romney’s position on religious bigotry is a lot like his position on abortion rights, stem cell research, and gay rights: it’s determined by political expedience.  Romney opposes bigotry in self-defense, not in defense of others, which is to say that he does not really oppose it at all.

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