December 6, 2007

Faith In America -- Live On Captain's Quarters

Mitt Romney will make one of the most anticipated speeches of the presidential campaign today at 10:30 ET, entitled "Faith in America". Thanks to the Romney campaign's agreement with Ustream, the speech can be seen live at blog sites, including here at Captain's Quarters.

Romney's team has released excerpts of his speech. In it, he will explicitly reject calls to explain the specific tenets of the Mormon faith, claiming it will set up a religious test:

"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."
That may be true in spirit, but not in actual fact. Article VI did not constrain voters from making religion a part of their decision-making process; it prohibited governments in the US on all levels from creating legal requirements in religious affiliation for public office. In fact, an earlier passage in Romney's speech appears to come close to insisting that a religious test is necessary for the Presidency:
"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adam's words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'

"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."

I don't necessarily disagree with the sentiments he expresses in this passage, but it's almost impossible to reconcile these two statements. If "freedom and religion endure together", doesn't the nature of that religion make a difference? Does freedom and Islam endure together, for instance? Freedom and Scientology? If, as Romney says, religion remains a serious consideration, is it unreasonable for people to ask about the nature of the religion that they seriously consider?

This is the trap in which Romney has put himself. He's trying to argue two almost-completely irreconcilable positions simultaneously. He'd have been on better ground if he kept himself to this:

"When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. 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."

That's the best argument Romney could have made. Unfortunately, at least based on the released excerpts, he wants to have it both ways. He wants to reassure evangelicals of the importance of religion while convincing anti-Mormons that denomination doesn't matter.

Perhaps the full speech will resolve this conundrum. I'll be watching, and I hope you join me here.

UPDATE & BUMP: I'll live-blog the speech at Heading Right. In the meantime, I'll keep this post on top until the speech begins.


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