Thursday, December 06, 2007

Governor, You're No Jack Kennedy

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.

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.

JFK, 1960
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.

...

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.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

...

And you can be certain of this: 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.

WMR, 2007

JFK of course already had his party's nomination and was addressing his comments to the national electorate. He also knew that his base voters in the Democratic party would find his commitment to an "absolute" separation of church and state reassuring.

In contrast, Romney's target audience with smaller. Having positioned himself as a newly reborn religious conservative, his target with his speech was not even the whole of the GOP. The very people that he has chosen to stake his presidential hopes on - right-wing Christian fundamentalists - are uncertain of his Christian fundamentalist bona fides. And so he had to walk a fine line between stoking the sense of entitlement to cultural and political dominance that Christian conservatives have come to expect and a plea for religious tolerance, diversity and plurality.

He chose to do this not by appealing to America's long history of religious freedom and tolerance - although he made the requisite references to same - but rather by trying to redefine the boundaries of a more limited idea for religious liberty. Religious conservatives in America speak often and passionately about religious liberty. But when they do so generally what they mean is simply religious liberty for themselves. So long as everyone in America is free to believe just as religious conservatives believe then the religious conservatives believe that the requirements for religious liberty have been met.

And so Romney set out the schema in which religion was now a requirement for liberty. When Romney said that "any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty has a friend and ally in me", he wasn't so much pledging his alliance with voters of faith as he was asking for their alliance with him. Romney drew a picture in which there were acceptable and non-acceptable orientations towards faith. And he sought to put himself on the "good" side of that divide. On the "bad" side were the secularists, the nonbelievers."They are wrong," he told his audience, and presumably lacking necessary qualities to be free. In offering a new common enemy to Christian conservatives, Romney sought to tell them "I'm with you", at least where it matters. What matters is to be a believer, to the Christian-ish and to join in common cause against those who would deny the rightful upper place in the newly emerging American religious caste system for those who believe not only that their faith guarantees them a privileged place in the afterlife but also in the here and now.

That's Romney's vision of America. What's yours?

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