I’m not sure if this was the right thing to do, but Mitt Romney feels it necessary to give a speech that, while billed as one dealing with his Mormon faith, doesn’t really appear to deal with that specifically. From the news reports on those parts of the speech released so far, Romney sounds defensive.
Republican Mitt Romney declares in a speech being delivered Thursday that he shares “moral convictions” with Americans of all faiths, but should not have to explain his own religion just because he’s striving to become the first Mormon elected president.
“To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths,” Romney said in remarks prepared for delivery at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
Well, actually, explaining your religious views does not, in any way, violate the Constitution. Article 6 states:
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
What I emphasized there is that one’s religion cannot be used to disqualify someone from running for or serving as President or any other office. We’re past that already; Romney has not been disqualified on account of his religion, and should he win the election he can serve.
Once someone is a candidate, however, questions about their values and views that are affected by their religious beliefs are completely fair game. How his religion, or lack thereof, informs his opinion on abortion, gay rights, tax policy and the like are certainly allowable questions. If there are any limits, they are limits of reasonableness; what is reasonable to understand about their religion that would be required to understand how they would govern. Mike Huckabee put it this way:
“I think it’s a matter of what his views are – whether they are consistent, whether they are authentic, just like mine are,” Huckabee told NBC’s “Today.”"If I had actions that were completely opposite of my Christian faith, then I would think people would have reason to doubt if this part of my life, which is supposed to be so important, doesn’t influence me. Then they would have to question whether or not there are other areas of my life that lack that authenticity as well”.
Frankly, people are just as free to vote against someone because of their religion as they are to vote for them because they make a good impression on The Tonight Show, and neither is unconstitutional.
So the constitutional issue is completely off the table, but that seems to be one of the main points of Romney’s speech, and that sounds very defensive, which is not how you need to appear with less than a month before the Iowa caucuses. He does make some very good points regarding church-state separation that I wholeheartedly agree with. But his appeal to the Constitution to refrain from getting to detailed about his beliefs doesn’t come across well, and the speech may do more harm than good for his campaign.