The disgusting rise of a disgusting test
by IseFire, Fri Dec 07, 2007 at 07:04:19 AM EST
Few moments in American history have so reflected a treasonous sentiment abroad in the republic against a key tenant of the Constitution as the speech in Houston this week by presidential candidate Mitt Romney to a largely Republican audience did against the separation of Church and State. Romney, a Mormon, felt compelled to give a speech to satisfy the requirements of what is essentially a religious test many Americans would like to make a requirement of candidates in America, supposedly the "land of the free."
The Constitution expressly prohibits religious tests for holding office. But the religious test as it exists now is not something written into law; rather, it is a reflection of two facts, one of which is worrying as it elevates religion too much into political and governmental affairs.
Fact one. Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals comprise up to 40% the Republican Party. (Read here about the Christian Rightwing's rise to great influence within the Republican Party.) So be it.
But: Fact two. Most of those Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are unafraid to subordinate questions about a candidate's competency, experience, intelligence, wisdom, or even general character to questions about a candidate's religion, theological opinions, positions on particular policy issues seen as theologically significant (e.g., positions regarding the rebuilding of Jerusalem's temple, so to fulfill a prophecy about the end times), or even the use of evangelical nomenclature or colloquialisms (e.g., phrases like "changed my heart" or lyrics from popular worship songs, like, "our God is an awesome God").
Mitt Romney gave into this test instead of defying it. What is worse, in submitting to this monstrous abuse, Romney echoed the propaganda--half-truths and lies--routinely spread by the Christian rightwing.
This is touched upon by The New York Times' editorial, "Crisis of Faith," about Romney's speech:
[I]n his speech, [Romney] courted the most religiously intolerant sector of American political life by buying into the myths at the heart of the "cultural war," so eagerly embraced by the extreme right......
He didn't mention Thomas Jefferson, who said he wanted to be remembered for writing the Declaration of Independence, founding the University of Virginia and drafting the first American law -- a Virginia statute -- guaranteeing religious freedom. In his book, "American Gospel," Jon Meacham quotes James Madison as saying that law was "meant to comprehend, with the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination."
He also didn't mention that Thomas Jefferson was attacked by what might be called the Christian rightwing of his own day, especially in the run-up to the 1800 election.
He also didn't mention the sentiment in the 1797 treaty with Tripoli that "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," (Art. 11), which passed the U.S. Senate unanimously and was signed by President John Adams, whose Christian-equse beliefs were heterodox, certainly not evangelical, and who is usually classified as a Unitarian.
Importantly, the Times' editorial also points out a myth Romney's helping perpetuate:
The other myth permeating the debate over religion is that it is a dispute between those who believe religion has a place in public life and those who advocate, as Mr. Romney put it, "the elimination of religion from the public square." That same nonsense is trotted out every time a court rules that the Ten Commandments may not be displayed in a government building.
The New York Times' editorial is correct that Mitt Romney is a candidate "cowed into defending his way of worshiping God by a powerful minority determined to impose its religious tenets as a test for holding public office," and that "religious testing has gained strength in the last few elections." These realities are problems not just for Mitt Romney, nor are they developments arguably benefiting conservative evangelical presidential candidate Mike Huckabee; they are problems for all Americans, for they reflect a limiting of freedom and a weakening of the separation of Church and State, and they benefit all observers in America and abroad who would seek to make political and governmental spheres subservient to religion.