A recent mass emailing to radio talk show hosts asks the supposedly provocative question, “Can Mitt Romney Serve Two Masters? The Mormon Church vs. the United States of America.” This, of course, is bringing to the fore once again comparisons to the objections to then candidate John Kennedy’s Catholicism back in 1960.
Mr. Kennedy made an election-altering speech then in which he successfully put to rest the concerns that, if he were elected, the Pope would have a satellite office in the White House. Now, it seems, some American citizens are concerned that a Romney presidency would relocate the nation’s capital to Salt Lake City.
A possible Romney presidency is indeed terrifying, but it has nothing to do with his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The notion that Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons as they are nicknamed, vote lockstep as Church leaders direct should be nonsense to anyone who follows any news. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a vociferous opponent of everything George Bush stands for, is also an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The Church’s leaders encourage its members to vote, but not how to do so.
We often read that the lessons of a generation ago have not been learned; this is generally in the context of the disastrous war in Iraq being compared to America’s earlier imperial catastrophe in Vietnam. But it appears that another lesson, that of religious tolerance, has also escaped at least a portion of the population. Mr. Kennedy’s words of nearly 47 years ago are instructive. The speech was made during an appearance at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960. Said Mr. Kennedy:
“… because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured – perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again – not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me – but what kind of America I believe in.”
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Today, as in 1960, voters should be looking not at what kind of church a candidate believes in, but what his or her vision for America is. For example, Mr. Romney has stated that he opposes the closing down Guantanamo. Rather, he feels its population of citizens suffering from cruel, harsh conditions and without the Constitutional protections that are supposedly the right of every citizen, should be doubled. Never having done the work of war, Mr. Romney now supports the continued American oppression of the Iraqi people, appearing now to be fascinated with it as play. Rather than foster the diversity that the founding fathers seemed to be aware of, he seeks to force his own ideals down the collective throat of an unwilling populace.
People curious about Mr. Romney’s religious beliefs are best served by seeking information from that church. Similarly, those interested in learning about his political stands, and his twisted vision for America, need not consult, say, Senator McCain. Mr. Romney’s words, contradictory as they have been over the years, speak for themselves.
Mr. Kennedy, a generation ago, said that the real issues of his campaign for the presidency were being overshadowed by his religious beliefs. This must not be allowed to happen today. Mr. Romney’s positions on nearly all the major issues of the day are so dangerous that they are overlooked at our peril.
In 1960 Mr. Kennedy went on the say the following: “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 led 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 apart at a time of great national peril.”
Today it is a Mormon against whom, as Mr. Kennedy said, the finger of suspicion is pointed. Last November, it was a Muslim. After Mr. Keith Ellison was elected as the first Muslim member of Congress he said he would use the Koran when he was sworn in. Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.), had this to say in response: “The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don't wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration, there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office and demanding the use of the Koran.”
Horror of horrors! More Muslims elected to office! One wonders what Mr. Goode considers worse: a Muslim in Congress or a Mormon in the Whitehouse.
Mr. Kennedy continued: “Finally, 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 to 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, both the lay and the 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.”
America has not yet come close to achieving Mr. Kennedy’s vision of religious tolerance. The concern over Mr. Romney’s membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is evidence of this. If it entertains anyone to discuss that or any other religion, its history, doctrines, etc., so be it. But such discussions should not be at the cost of a careful examination of Mr. Romney’s dangerous positions.
Mr. Kennedy was certainly right when he predicted continued religious intolerance. Perhaps some progress has been made, however. Mr. Ellison was elected on the basis of his positions on the issues of concern to the voters of his Minnesota district; his religious beliefs apparently played no significant role in his election. We must hope that Mr. Romney will be defeated on the basis of his positions on the issues of importance to most Americans; any consideration of his religious beliefs in determining his fit for office is irrelevant.
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