It may be argued that the greatest speech ever given by a presidential candidate in defense of freedom of religion was the speech by John F. Kennedy on September 12, 1960, to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.
Rather than merely assert this, you can decide for yourself from this excerpt:
“… because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured--perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again--not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me--but what kind of America I believe in.
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--and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
(For the whole speech go to http://www.beliefnet.com/story/40/story_4080_1.html.)
Of course, one could hardly ask a candidate to more clearly define their stand on an issue. This speech may represent the “Gold Standard” for all future candidates on the subject.
Now consider how times have changed: in the past, a religiously incorrect candidate, which a Catholic would be back then on the national scene, sought to reassure voters that their supernatural beliefs or religious leaders would not affect their performance in government.
Nowadays, many “values” voters almost prefer that their elected officials obey their clerics, as long as their clerics are fairly fundamentalist, anti-science and their morals primitive and paternalistic. What voters care about now is whether a candidate is a religious heretic, or worse, a non-believer! They care not whether the candidate’s supernatural beliefs might cause human suffering; they care about whether those beliefs are the “True” beliefs, and if they lead to policies that cause misery, it’s no problem as long as they are not heretical or, worse, skeptical.
It is in this context that Mitt Romney, a Mormon candidate for the Republic presidential nomination gave his speech to a crowd at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library at Texas A&M University in Texas on December 6, 2007.
Romney at first affirmed that “no authorities of my church… will ever exert influence on presidential decisions.” Ironically, although this is in line with Kennedy’s viewpoint, this is not what the most distrustful Republican primary voters cared to hear; no one was worried about this. Those voters, consisting of Protestant Evangelicals and other fundamentalists, have little issue with Romney on actual policy, if one overlooks his history of flip-flopping to meet electoral needs. If Romney did obey his church on most matters, they’d actually be happy. In other words, Romney put out a fire that had never really started.
But then, instead of addressing those who believe he is not a Christian and who would not vote for him because of that, he attacked common enemies: secularists and secularism.
“In John Adams' words: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution," he said, "was made for a moral and religious people." (Ed.’s note: Adams was a Unitarian and disbelieved in the divinity of Jesus. His definition of morality may not have had a supernatural aspect.)
Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty,some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I'll answer them today… If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.
There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it's more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true to them and to my beliefs…
Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world. There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people. (Ed.’s note: Wasn’t abolition and integration commonly depicted as anti-Christian in this country? And by the Mormon Church in particular?)
We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But 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. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It's as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong. (Ed.’s note: Yup, religious neutrality is a religion in and of itself, and in THIS case, apparently, it’s a bad thing. All other religions, except for this new “Religion of Secularism,” are good and included according to Romney.)
The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation "under God" and in God, we do indeed trust.
We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'
Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: Does he share these American values — the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another and a steadfast commitment to liberty…
They're the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united…
Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government…(End of excerpt portion.)
At this point, Romney’s strategy is crystal clear: change the issue and scapegoat the secular.
Also, do NOT explain Mormonism to the typical Christian – the less they know about Mormonism, the better. Instead, emphasize Jesus and attack non-believers and secularism. It is truly a brilliant ploy that should fool no one, but probably will fool many, including many in the media.
Romney, ironically, then went on to cite evidence of the pernicious affect of religion and governance:
“Today's generations of Americans have always known religious liberty. Perhaps we forget the long and arduous path our nation's forebears took to achieve it. They came here from England to seek freedom of religion. But upon finding it for themselves, they at first denied it to others. Because of their diverse beliefs, Ann Hutchinson was exiled from Massachusetts Bay, Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, and two centuries later, Brigham Young set out for the West. Americans were unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths. In this, they were very much like those of the European nations they had left.
It was in Philadelphia that our founding fathers defined a revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self evident truths about the equality of all, and the inalienable rights with which each is endowed by his Creator. (Ed.’s note: The Creator referred to in the Declaration of Independence was not Jesus, since Jefferson, the author of the Declaration, did NOT believe in the divinity of Christ.)
We cherish these sacred rights, and secure them in our Constitutional order. (Ed.’s note: The old ‘bait and switch’! First he quoted the Declaration and then he makes it seem as though he is talking about the foundation of our country’s laws, the Constitution!)
Foremost do we protect religious liberty, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of right. There will be no established church, and we are guaranteed the free exercise of our religion.
I'm not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I've visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired, so grand and so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.
Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent jihad, murder as martyrdom, killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.
In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be — You can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: We do not insist on a single strain of religion — rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith. (End of excerpts.)
But apparently “we” do NOT welcome even a peep of disbelief.
That a presidential candidate could so blatantly ostracize a whole class of law-abiding and patriotic Americans – non-believers – as a tactic to gain votes is an awful commentary on the candidate, and on the voters.
This final portion of the speech is also a commentary on the total inability to reason on the part of Romney and his target; religious fundamentalists. Here Romney recites the evils of mixing religion and governance in detail while ignoring the proven American solution—separation.
Although he quotes John Adams, he ignores James Madison, the Father of the Constitution and author of the First Amendment who wrote, “Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed,as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.” (For this quote and more go to http://candst.tripod.com/tnppage/qmadison.htm .)
Yes, Romney knows the consequences of mixing faith and the state and instead of “perfect separation” as counseled by the great James Madison, Romney claims only to be a friend to “any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty.”
Thanks for nothing.