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Romney: Atheism Destroys Freedom

December 9th, 2007

Boy, talk about hypocrisy, spin, and sucking up all rolled up into one orgasmic heave. Romney’s speech on religion was not a testament to principle, rather it was an unabashed sop to the religious right, a plea to elect a religious candidate who belonged to a different sect, but promised to fight for Christian dominance. The text of his speech can be found here.

Romney certainly begins like a Republican: invoking WWII, fascism, winning the Cold War, and radical violent Islam in the first three paragraphs, couched in vocabulary like honor, inspiring, challenge, defend, and freedom, as well as scare words like peril, risk, troubled, and breakdown, topped off with homilies to a free and strong America and the greatest generation. You can practically measure the political intensity of the speech in quantifiable precision right from the start. All he left out were direct references to Reagan and Lincoln.

Romney wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter, namely hypocrisy. Despite protestations about separation of church and state, he immediately paints the country as a religious state, claiming religion is literally necessary for the country to function:

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.

Translation: atheists, go to hell; this is a Christian country and you are poison to us, representing the means of our downfall. If that’s not what he meant, it is certainly what he said. Perhaps he was just trying to suck up to the religious right, but the actual meaning of his statement is a punch in the gut to secularists. Right here, he completely contradicts himself on the whole “separation of church and state.”

But it gets better. He goes Dan Quayle on the crowd:

Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.

Again, his language specifically excludes atheists: a candidate should not be judged because of his faith. The correct statement is that a candidate should not be judged because of his beliefs. Huge difference. The correct statement means that there should be no religious test, that a person of any belief system should have an equal chance. What Romney said is contained purely to those who are religious, and that a candidate should not be judged by which god they bow to.

Add to that the fact that Romney is trying to equate himself to John F. Kennedy. In this, Romney fails miserably. While Kennedy, a Catholic trying to be elected in a Protestant society, also couched his speech in religious terms, he slipped in language clearly intended to include those of non-belief, and used more bold language mandating a secular government. Kennedy’s words from 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.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew–or a Quaker–or a Unitarian–or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim–but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end–where all men and all churches are treated as equal–where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice–where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind–and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

Note the key passages: “where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference,” and “where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice.” Kennedy is clearly stating that the government needs to be divorced from religion, completely the opposite of what Romney is arguing. Kennedy argued for a secular government; Romney is arguing for religious bigots to not hold him Mormonism against him. Further down in his speech, you’ll note that Romney directly contradicts Kennedy’s sentiments about separation of church and state and what form it takes. Romney will gladly claim the mantle of a popular president–just not the principle upon which that mantle is based.

Not to mention that Romney engaged in a direct political dodge in his invocation of Kennedy: Romney said that Kennedy “was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president.” However, what Kennedy said precisely was, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic.” Interesting edit by Romney.

Romney continues:

As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America’s “political religion” — the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution.

Well, there’s Lincoln. I spoke too soon above. But the key to that statement is “the rule of law and the Constitution.” This from the man who approves of warrantless wiretapping, pledges to “Double Guantanamo,” and says we should not question the government’s torture policies. Romney promises to be the same kind of Republican as Bush is: loyal to the party over the Constitution–and more loyal to the religious right as well.

But then, Romney treads into territory that many religious people do on this issue, trying to have it both ways in terms of separating but not separating religion and government:

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.

I’ve heard that many times before: church and state should be separated, but my faith will direct my actions in ruling the state. I know how many religious people see this–my religion equals my morality, and my morality drives my decisions. But what about when that faith confronts matters of church and state? Surely the faith of a religious Christian informs that person that lack of religion will put people’s souls in peril of eternal damnation; this is likely one reason why so many Christian politicians favor prayer in schools, and the Ten Commandments posted everywhere.

Religious politicians try to dance on a razor-thin line here: no religious leaders will direct my actions, but my religious faith will direct my actions. That is, or almost is, a distinction without a difference, and is one of the reasons why we have such dangerous incursions by religion into the matters of state.

But Romney clearly crosses the line with this statement:

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.

This is a direct sop to the religious right wing. It’s practically the mantra of many of them, and essentially says, “we should have separation of church and state, except that we shouldn’t, really.” Like those he is parroting, Romney is trying to have it both ways–being for separation and against it at the same time.

Romney explains that “The founders … did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square.” This is a direct reference to the abolishment of religion wherever public funds are used for funding. It is based on the principle that a single belief system must not be favored by the government over other belief systems. If one has a display of Christianity only in the public square, that is not acceptable; if one has a multi-religious display, even one not acknowledging non-belief, that is acceptable. So displaying the cross, the star of David, and the star and the crescent together on public land are legal.

Since this is not banned from the public square, then what is Romney talking about? Romney’s complaint, that religion is being “eliminated” from the “public square,” is really just religious code, which means, “Christianity is being demoted from being the sole, dominant religion, and we cannot have that; we want Christian-only displays allowed, the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms,” etc. etc. Just like the so-called “War on Christmas™,” it’s a red herring claiming that religion is being persecuted where there is no persecution; instead, the claim of persecution is used to promote the persecution of everyone else.

Romney further displays this propensity by citing the religious-right standard, “We are a nation ‘under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.” Romney speaks of references to god in the pledge of allegiance and on currency–both of them incursions of religion in government that happened recently, in the last 50 to 100 years, in contradiction to established secular tradition. The same religious incursions that ultra-right-wing Antonin Scalia tried to invoke so as to completely demolish the wall separating church and state.

Unlike Kennedy, who, speaking to a Christian majority, slipped in language covering the non-religious, and encouraged secularism, Romney specifically excludes the non-religious, and makes repeated mention that he refers only to people of religion, that they are the only true Americans, the only free Americans.

Something else interesting from the beginning of his speech:

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.”

On this, Romney was confronted by reporters, specifically on his leaving out non-religious people. From a Newsweek blog:

“I’m wondering why you didn’t mention non-religious people in your speech yesterday, number one, and also what you meant by ‘freedom requires religion’?” asked a reporter.

An important point–but Romney deflected. “I’m paraphrasing something that’s been said both by John Adams and George Washington,” he said. “Which is that, in their view, for a nation like ours to be great and to thrive… that our Constitution was written for a people of faith and religion. It’s a very extraordinary element and foundation for our nation. I believe that’s the case.”

Unsatisfied, another reporter pounced. “Do you think an atheist or non-believer or non-spiritual person can’t therefore be a free person?” he asked.

“Of course not,” Romney responded. “That’s not what I said.”

“But you said ‘freedom requires religion’?”

“I’m talking about the nation,” Romney snapped. Next question.

Note that Romney dodged the heart of the question about non-religious people.

Pay attention, however, to Romney’s switch of language: that the “Constitution was written for a people of faith and religion.” In his speech, he said it was made for “a moral and religious people.” Does Romney see no difference between the two? It may well be that Romney is one of those people who also believes that there can be no morality without religious faith.

The conclusion that we can come away with after this speech? That Romney is owned by the religious right, desires to tear down the separation of church and state, and will not consider at all the rights of the non-religious.

After all, Romney was speaking at the George (H. W.) Bush Presidential Library; that particular Bush is known to have said, “I don’t know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.”

That sentiment perhaps sheds new light on Romney’s choice of venues for that statement.

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  1. Tim Kane
    December 9th, 2007 at 13:01 | #1

    Christ commanded his followers to separate church from state, religion from politics, theology from civics.

    It’s Not a guideline. It’s a commandment.

    He also say’s stuff like this:
    “Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

    How will you know who’s a wolf and who’s actually a sheep?
    He says: You can tell a tree by the fruit it bears. ” A sound tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor a rotten tree bear good fruit… Any tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire…”

    To underline the point he repeats himself (according to the bible)… “I repeat, you will be able to tell them by their fruits.”

    Okay that’s instrumental mostly in identifying Bush as the preverbial “wolf in sheep’c clothing.”

    Now what might be another way of telling a wolf in sheeps clothing?

    How about someone who calls himself a Christian yet patently ignores Christ’s commandments? In this case the separation of church and state?

    Let’s see, Christ said that in around the year 35. Then maybe it was ignored until 1790ish. Then our founding generation put it in the constitution. In between 35 and 1790 you have endless and bloody wars of religion. (There’s your wolf right there). After 1790 increasingly less and less strife over religion – especially in the ‘Christian’ and other areas following up on this idea. That is, until around 1970s when some wealthy people realized they could control the country by co-opting religions and steering them to the right.

    To underscore the wisdom of that commandment, btw, one simply needs to look at the Muslims blowing themselves and everyone else because many believe that religion and politics is inseparable.

    For what it’s worth, I don’t think Romney is a wolf in sheep’s clothes. I think he’s a fool trying to put on garments that might turn him into one. For he surely doesn’t posses the kind of wisdom clearly evident in Kennedy (despite his weaknesses and bad judgment regarding personal habits). It might very well consume him.

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