On Sept. 12, 1960, Democratic Party presidential nominee John F. Kennedy made a speech before the Greater Houston Ministerial Alliance addressing questions about his Roman Catholic faith. Kennedy's religious beliefs had become something of a political time bomb.
Kennedy decided to appear following a Sept. 7 condemnation of his candidacy by Rev. Norman Vincent Peale and the inaccurately named National Conference of Citizens for Religious Freedom. In a statement, Peale and the group wrote that a Roman Catholic president would be "under extreme pressure from the hierarchy of his church to bring the United States foreign policy into line with Vatican objectives."
Among other things, Kennedy stated in the speech, "I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none, who can attend any ceremony, service, or dinner his office may appropriately require of him, and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation."
JFK continued, "This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a 'divided loyalty,' that we did 'not believe in liberty,' or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the 'freedoms for which our forefathers died'."
Last Thursday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addressed an emerging religious divide over his Mormonism and the evaporation of his lead in Iowa to Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas. Huckabee has runs ads in Iowa touting himself as a "Christian leader," a move some believe is designed to highlight Romney's Mormonism. On the campaign trail, Huckabee has refused to say whether or not he believes Mormons are Christians.
Romney made his speech in the George Herbert Walker Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas, and was introduced by the library's namesake himself. I've yet to wrap my head around that one, but I digress.
Anyhoo, Romney stated he would not subject the Oval Office to directives from Salt Lake City and called for religious tolerance. He uttered the word "Mormon" only once.
"No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion," Romney said. "But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning ... 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."
He argued that Mormonism reinforces the basic American values of human equality and a commitment to compassion and liberty. Romney's remarks indicated a peculiarly American religious pluralism of a "common creed of moral conviction" amongst the array of belief systems in the United States. I take these statements to be as sincere as his television ads.
What I also find disturbing is that Romney focused so hard on red-meat social conservatives with this speech — see, the religion of secularism rant — that he is dismissing out of hand the millions of Americans for whom faith is not an aspect of daily, or make that just-on-Sunday, life.
"Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom," Romney said.
I suppose he's conceded the hedonistic heathens voting bloc to the Democrats.
I found the following little snippet to be especially telling and amusing: "Americans do not respect believers of convenience. Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world."
A strange comment given his widely-publicized policy switches on guns, immigration, gay rights, and abortion.
Will the speech save his candidacy? I don't see how.