Romney’s Problem with the First Amendment
I always think it odd when any religious American starts up about the perils of having a strict separation of church and state. In spite of having a secular constitution, nowhere in the Western world — indeed, the world entire — are the rights of the religious afforded greater protection than in the United States. As a consequence, the inhabitants of the land between the Atlantic and the Pacific are far more religious, and overtly and militantly so, than in any European nation.
So, here’s Mitt Romney on the role of faith in American political life:
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney believes that “some” Americans have taken the separation of church and state too far, “well beyond its original meaning.”
In an interview released Tuesday with the Washington National Cathedral’s magazine, Cathedral Age, Romney said those who “seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God” aren’t acting in line with the Founders’ intent.
Odd that such a keen constitutionalist should have such a problem with one particular passage. The First Amendment could not be more clear on this issue: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. Thomas Jefferson expanded on this point in a letter of 1802 which assured the American people that there shall be a “a wall of separation between church and State”, adding that “the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions”. Nobody is stopping Gov. Romney or anybody else from discussing religion in the public square, then. Rather, it is the role of government to stay out of the religion business — thus, no prayer in public schools — unless there is the possibility of harm.
This might also be an opportune moment to explain to Gov. Romney who exactly demanded the wall of separation. It was not the secularists, nor the deists, nor the atheists. Rather, it was the Baptists of Danbury, Conn., who sought shelter from the activities and actions of the Congregationalists in the same town. These Baptists, incidentially, wrote in their petition to Jefferson that, “Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals”.
Romney said the Founders didn’t intend for “the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God, ‘and in God, we do indeed trust.”
It was the Eisenhower administration that both adopted “In God we trust” as the official motto of the United States in 1956 (replacing the unofficial axiom,E pluribus unum, conceived by the Founders in 1782) and added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954. Never let facts get in the way of one’s argument.
The Founders made no reference to the Christian God or any intervening sky-God in the Declaration of Independence, which referred to a Creator — a Jeffersonian touch, for he was a deist, like John Adams. Nor did the Framers insert mention God in the Constitution, which is wholly secular.
Romney, who is Mormon, didn’t mention his faith by name during the nine-page interview, but acknowledged that, “I am often asked about my faith and my beliefs about Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.”
“Every religion has its own unique doctrines and history,” he said, and “these should not be bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance.”
I can only assume from these remarks that any Romney administration would be extremely tolerant if, for example, an Islamic family or group wished to conduct their affairs according to the most extreme elements of sharia law. And, that President Romney would never have tried to extract David Koresh from Waco, or capture Warren Jeffs. After all, religion was their shield, and no-one ought to criticise anyone else’s faith.
Apparently, Gov. Romney believes wholly in the idea that the state ought not prohibit the free exercise of religion, but is somewhat sketchy on the latter part of the Amendment, that “Congress shall make no law respecting abridging the freedom of speech”.