Mitt Romney’s Religion Dilemma

There has been considerable speculation regarding Mitt Romney’s upcoming speech on his religious beliefs, with many noting the dangers of this backfiring. In a battle over the specifics of one’s religious beliefs, Romney is at a disadvantage against Mike Huckabee in appealing to religious Christian voters. In speaking about this, Romney risks making this distinction even more apparent and risks turning their religious views into the deciding factor in the race. Romney must appeal to religious tolerance, but cannot go as far as John Kennedy did in 1960 before a Republican audience. Just a few sections from Kennedy’s speech demonstrate how much the Republican voters of 2007 differ from the American voters of 1960:

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.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish–where no public official either requests or accepts 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 or the public acts of its officials–and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all…

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe–a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office…

Whatever issue may come before me as President–on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject–I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

Throughout most of our history, Americans have understood the importance of separation of church and state as envisioned by the founding fathers. Historically it has often been religious groups who where the strongest defenders of a strict separation of church and state, recognizing that this was important to guarantee freedom of religion for all. In recent years many Republicans have been promoting an alternative history which denies our heritage of separation of church and state. Some Republicans have even claimed that the founding fathers intended to create a Christian nation.

John Kennedy’s views would not be welcomed by Republicans who hold these views. Nor would these views be welcome by Republicans who desire to use the power of government to impose their views on all. Many of today’s Republicans choose their candidate precisely based upon their religious views and would reject a candidate who insisted that they remain private. Issues including birth control, abortion, stem cell research, and same sex marriage are made prominent by the religious right which fails to recognize separation of church and state and seeks to decide upon these issues based upon the dictates of their religion.

None of these views are likely to be expressed by Mitt Romney in his attempts to seek the Republican nomination. He has a difficult task this week in writing his speech if he hopes to appeal to religious tolerance while still allowing the Republican base to believe he will promote their agenda.


  1. 1
    Eric Dondero says:

    William Weld has always been viewed as the quintessencial “liberal-libertarian.” He’s endorsed Romney for President. I would have thought, that the main website for liberal-libertarians might highlight that fact.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:

    How much do you think Weld’s endorsement is simply due to the Massachusetts connection? An endorsement on ideological grounds would make far more sense if Romney had stuck to the social liberal positions he previously ran on.

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