"Mitt, you're no JFK"

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Romney's much-awaited "Faith in America" speech (transcript here) was worse than I had expected. Romney didn't want to deliver an inclusive speech in support of religious pluralism, as Kennedy did in 1960, preferring to temper the separation of church and state rather than forcefully uphold it. Romney echoed JFK in this passage:

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.

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin.

Other sections of the speech displayed a far less congenial sentiment:

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.

This is nonsense, unless one can ignore both the propensity of organized religion toward conformity and the opposite tendency of some freethinkers toward anarchy. The following passage started off well, but then also veered off into far right field. The wingnuts may applaud talk about the oxymoronic "religion of secularism," but that doesn't make it true.

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.

This section was also bothersome:

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.

I believe strongly in religious freedom, but I do not pray to a deity; does this exclude me from "friend and ally" status with Romney? If his "symphony of faith" excludes atheists and agnostics, it would be even less harmonious than an orchestra without trumpets, French horns, and double basses, which together approximate within an orchestra the 18% of American adults without religion. Politicians wouldn't dare to overlook any other voting bloc of comparable size; that they do so to freethinkers is equally unacceptable.

To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen's famous slam on Dan Quayle, I'll just say, "Mitt, you're no JFK."

update (3:46pm):
Andrew Sullivan mentions some other reactions here.

update 2 (4:05pm)
Ron Chusid has some excellent remarks at Liberal Values:

At least Romney did make mention of separation of church and state, which many conservatives totally deny. He also spoke of "our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty," but he does not appear to understand these principles. Nor does he understand secularism. [...] Romney makes the same mistake made by many conservatives in confusing secularism for opposition to religion. When Romney cites the founding fathers he fails to understand that many of them were simultaneously religious and believers in secularism.

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on December 6, 2007 2:10 PM.

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