Shocker: Mitt Romney Gets It Wrong December 6, 2007

Shocker: Mitt Romney Gets It Wrong

Mitt Romney gave his speech on faith today and, not surprisingly, he got the state/church separation angle completely wrong:

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 is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

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.

No. No. No no no. No no no no no.


Author Wendy Kaminer says this a tad more eloquently:

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.


What she said.

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  • Mriana

    You know, it ceases to amaze me as to how people can totally twist not only the Constitution, but also what people want.

  • The United States is screwed if this guy gets the White House. His doublespeak and bigotry are amazing… I mean, “religion is freedom”? Come on, that’s just nonsene.

  • cautious

    I like the part where he said

    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.

    Yay, reason and religion are friends and allies! That probably surprises me and everyone who reads and contributes to this website or any other where reason and religion are competing.

  • Aj

    Isn’t Romney hanging himself here? He’s not a Christian in a majority Christian country. He believes Christ sailed to America, and people are going to know it if he ever starts looking like he could win.

  • Arlen

    People should remember that “under God” was only added to the pledge of allegiance in 1954 and that “In God We Trust” only became the motto of the United States in 1956. People act like those things have been around since our nation’s founding. Hogwash!

  • Romney’s speech was a lesson in contradictions. He had to profess a strong belief in Jesus/God/religion, but he couldn’t come off to Mormony because if he scares off Christians he has no chance. Reading the transcript yesterday I got dizzy watching him dance around the issue.

  • Stephen

    I read about Romney’s speech earlier, and then promptly forgot about it because nothing about it surprised me. Washington politicians – especially GOP politicians, but all of them when it comes down to it – have to say the dumbest things about religion to appease their voters, and 75% of them probably believe the crap they say about it anyway.

  • Romney’s speech was frightening. To even compare it to Kennedy’s is criminal. This is what we have become.

    Freedom is religion?

  • Actually, Hemant, you are quite wrong on this matter. Historically, the Founders used their position to assert a non-polemical form of Christianity that was generally accepted by the populace. The Revolutionary War was thought of in religious terms and battle flags carried during the war evidence this, as do sermons preached at the time. Proclomations of thanksgiving and prayer were given by state governors and presidents (except for Jefferson). Government buildings, including Congress and the Supreme Court, were also converted into churches on Sundays. The appointing of Christian chaplains for both Congress and the military (who were paid $8 a month, the same salary as a Major) was common. Rules for Christian morality were drawn up and expected out of military personnel. First chief Justice John Jay served as president of the American Bible Society. The words, “separation of church and state” never once appear in the Constitution. These words are drawn from a private letter between Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury (Connecticut) Baptist Association who feared that the federal government believed the right to free expression of worship was government-given and not God-given. Jefferson assured them that such was not the case. Furthermore, Jefferson was an ambasador to France when the Constitution was written. He had no part in in. The man who drafted the language of the first amendment was Fisher Ames, who opposed Jeffersonian democracy and vigorously fought for the inclusion of the Bible in public schools. This is not to mention the scores of the founding generation who professed Jesus as their personal savior. So, while America was not set up as an explicitly Christian nation–a nation that would have made other religions illegal–it was implicitly understood that religion was important to the success of the nation and Christianity was that preferred religion. The Library of Congress has a wonderful exhibit that can be viewed here:

    Some might claim many of the founding generation were Deists, but Deism was not as popular as some have purported and the words of the founding generation themselves do not bear this out (with a few exceptions). Others might say that they did not hold to orthodox Christian views. While this is a more plausible accusation, as a student of theology, it is clear that indeed MOST people do not have orthodox views about Christianity, even if they attend church every Sunday. Like many disciplines, theology proper is done by only a select few who then must disseminate that knowledge to those not called into ministry (who only get theology proper once a week and then must return to the world of competing influences.)

    That being said, Mormonism is NOT Christianity. It is a cult. (I recently interviewed Dr. Andrew Jackson about his new book “Mormonism Explained” at my site, Be that as it may, Romney’s view of American history and the Founding Father’s intent is indeed correct.

  • Old Beezle

    Mormon doctrine advocates theocratic rule. The precedent began with Joseph Smith and his bid for presidency back in the day along with his positions as Mayor of Nauvoo Illinois and Commander of the Nauvoo Legion (Mormon Militia). Brigham Young continued it as Governor of the Utah Territory. These political positions were concurrent with these men leading the Mormon church (zero separation of church and state). Oh, and who can forget that Mormons also believe Jesus himself will rule the world in a perfect theocracy during the thousand years of the Millenium (the period that comes after Armageddon but prior to Judgment).

    One can only hope that Romney is a better politician/businessman than he is a Mormon. It appears that he’s only in it for the money & the power and the power & the money so I think we’re safe…sort-of…

  • Sarah

    Calvin, there are so many falsehoods in your post, I don’t even have time to go through them all. Judging by your comments on Mormonism and your blog about Christianity, it’s doubtful you look at American history through an objective eye.

    At the time of the “Founders,” only 10% of the population attended church.

    The Revolutionary War pre-dates the drafting of the Constitution. Therefore, citing any religious fervor to support Christianity in government doesn’t work here.

    James Madison – the author of the Constitution – was opposed to funding for chaplains.

    The Constitution of the United states forbid anything like establishment of a NATIONAL religion. The law appointing chaplains establishes a religious worship for the NATIONAL representatives, to be performed by ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the NATIONAL taxes. Does this not involve a principle of a NATIONAL Establishment, a applicable to provision for a religious worship for the constituent as well as the representative body, approved by the majority, and conducted by ministers of religion paid by the entire nation?

    More on Madison

    You are correct that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution. However, the phrase (co-opted by Jefferson and originating with Roger Williams the minister) is used by courts and legislation to define what the First Amendment stands for.

    To claim that Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist has no influence is extremely ignorant and false. Austin Cline says it better than I ever could.

    Also, are you NOT aware that Jefferson and Madison were political and personal friends? If you knew anything about Jefferson, you would know that Madison kept a stream of letters going to Jefferson (who was in Paris at the time) concerning the drafting of the Constitution. Madison consider Jefferson a role model and took to MANY of his ideas concerning government.

    It also should be noted that Fisher Ames was extremely critical of Jefferson’s ideas too. Once again, you are also false about Ames “drafting” the First Amendment. Please refer to footnote 2.

    By the way, professing Jesus as your savior has NOTHING to do with if you agree that church and state should be separate. Neither does your religious beliefs. The Founders were a good example of this principle. They had varying religious views, but still agreed that separating those views from government was a GOOD idea. Not only that, many of the Founders were students of the classics. It’s no surprise that the concept of democracy comes from ancient Greece.

    And yes, the great deal of IMPORTANT Founders (Jefferson, Madison) were religious freethinkers who freely criticized Christianity and its followers, not to mention defend religious freedom at every possible moment:

    …Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are estined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind. John Adams

    And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together. James Madison

    Religion flourishes in greater purity without than with the aid of government. James Madison

    Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience. James Madison, again!

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth. Thomas Jefferson

    I know it will give great offense to the clergy, but the advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them. Thomas Jefferson

    But most importantly, that letter to the Danbury Baptists again:

    Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. State churches that use government power to support themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of the church tends to make the clergy unresponsive to the people and leads to corruption within religion. Erecting the “wall of separation between church and state,” therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society.

    We have solved … the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.

    And – as a personal side note – both Jefferson and Adams cheered in private letters when England finally decided to overturn a law which required all citizens to proclaim the divinity of Jesus Christ.

    To say that deism wasn’t influential is also false. Ever heard of the “Age of Enlightenment?” The major players in the shaping of America were followers.

    Well, I could probably spend half a day on this, but I’ve run out of time. Luckily, the serious student of American history will regard your post with little to no relevance here. Plus, I hope you can work our your biases against religions you don’t agree with too.

  • Bad

    They do this simply by shamelessly playing on the ambiguity of the word “public” which can mean two very different things (think public works vs. in public). Complete BS, of course.

    But hey: don’t forget to open your soul windows everybody!

  • I love Wendy Kaminer. When too many atheists/agnostics make asses out of themselves trying to fight religion, she just elegantly states the facts.

    a dollar bill is not the public square, and neither is an official pledge of fealty to the nation.

    Choice. Absolutely choice and to the point.

  • Mriana

    Calvin Moore said,

    December 7, 2007 at 1:48 pm

    Actually, Hemant, you are quite wrong on this matter. Historically, the Founders used their position to assert a non-polemical form of Christianity that was generally accepted by the populace.

    Calvin, are you saying deism was accepted by the populace? Most of our founding fathers were deists- even Thomas Jefferson.

  • Aj

    Calvin, are you saying deism was accepted by the populace? Most of our founding fathers were deists- even Thomas Jefferson.

    Is that a fact? I’ve read about many of them, and I would have thought the majority were Christian. A lot of the official documents, like the Consistution were largely contributed to by deists. The consensus of Christians and Deists would be Deism, they can all agree that there is a creator. So that might have been your point, that the consensus of the founding fathers was Deism, and that is reflected in their signed documents. Much of the underlying philsophy behind their views was from Deists.

  • Sarah,

    I am a Christian first. I am a student of history second. This does not mean that I let my religious beliefs override my view of history. There are many things in American history that have happened contrary to my belief system that I accept as historical fact. As such, I have no agenda in proving how Christian this nation was. If it had been Moslem, I would have pointed to that fact. I was simply trying to show that Mitt Romney’s comments about the founding generation were correct. (When I refer to the founding generation I am not referring only to the big names we are taught in elementary and high school, but the larger contingent of men involved with the DOI, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution.) As such I researched your sources and it seems they have more of an agenda than you believe I have and lack the scholarship expected of historians. Cline, though educated, is not actually a historian so his words do not hold weight. As my Christianity makes me suspect to you, his atheism makes him suspect to everyone. Also, you did not address the actions of the founding generation after the Revolution. The conversion of Congress into church every Sunday. The Presidential proclamations for days of “prayer, thanksgiving, and fasting.” John Jay’s dual role as Chief Justice and president of the American Bible Society. The confession of faith by so many who had a hand in the drafting of the DOI and the Constitution.

    Jefferson might have had influence, but he was not present through the process. He only became president later by the skin of his teeth in the election of 1800. Ames was indeed a political opponent of Jefferson. So were many others. It’s politics. The fact is, Ames did draft the language of the First Amendment. And he did want Christian scripture as part of the public curriculum. If anyone could interpret the First Amendment, it would be Ames. Yet, he sought for some semblance of a blending of church and state, as did the other founding generation (for the most part). This is also a matter of historical record. The source I cited at the Library of Congress is both scholarly and rife with original documents and secondary opinions you might want to study through.

    As for Deism, I did not deny people were deists and influenced by deism. I merely pointed to the fact that it was not as widespread or influential in the founding generation as neo-historians would have us believe. Just as you cannot paint our entire generation with broad strokes of postmodernism, you cannot paint that entire generation as deistic in outlook. Jefferson certainly was. Possibly Franklin (though this is hotly debated). Enlightenment thinking had influence, but most of the founding generation still confessed Jesus as a personal savior. Whether that is how we view it today is up for debate, but their confessions are also a matter of historical fact.

    While Americans were not unified on the concept of religion, the majority of the population, whether they attended church or not, considered themselves Christians. This is how the historical record is interpreted by most scholars. There were different sects, to be sure, but most of those sects were sects of Christianity. This is not to say other religions were not present during the time of the American Revolution and the early American republic, but Christianity was and continues to be the dominant religion in this country (though this has, as we both know, waned a great deal).

    I’m not sure exactly what you think here. I’m not one of those guys who “wants a return to America’s Christian heritage.” I’m just looking at the historical record and stating what I see. I suppose it may be a matter of interpretation, but I believe it takes a certain measure of historical calisthenics to make the record say otherwise.

  • Michael

    Hello, I just wanted to mention that without the appeal to a God (an infinite and superior-to us- being in all aspects) that expects us to be like Him, there are no grounds upon which to establish even the most primitive legal system (what do the words “right and “wrong” even mean if we are just “homo sapiens”?) and even less grounds to obey a president and all the officials under him. I wouldn’t even consider voting for Romney because of his slanted view of God, but I beg you not to associate the two beyond reason. There are many strange people that give God a bad rap, but let Him speak for himself through beautiful, functional, and even enjoyable nature. “freedom”, as listed in a comment above, does not come from any religion, I will agree with that, but even religion has a way of tainting the way we percieve God. I hate being called “religious” because of all the conotations, but I love being called a follower of God the father and His Son Jesus Christ… through whom only true freedom can be found (from our sins… yeah me too, I still screw up all the time), and without can still be seen in the fleshly sense (since we are all made in His image… like him, knowing what is right and wrong). The source of “freedom” can be heavily debated, but the reason we debate it can’t… it exists. It’s existence lends support to His existence.

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