Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s “Faith in America” speech Thursday at the Bush Presidential Library in Texas was widely portrayed before its delivery as being mainly aimed at religious voters who are reluctant to support the Republican presidential candidate because of their doubts about the influence of his Mormon faith.
Comforting these folks was certainly an objective, but Romney contributed mightily to the public good by addressing something even more important than chasing the ballots of a key voting bloc — the need to restore America’s founding culture of religious liberty and toleration.
Significant political speeches always address multiple audiences, and on one level Romney’s College Station presentation likely could not have more effectively spoken the language needed to reassure many skeptical evangelicals and fundamentalists. Romney acknowledged there are doctrinal differences among the various denominations that seek shelter under the umbrella of Christianity.
But he stressed that when he was governor he never confused “the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution, and of course I would not do so as president. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.”
Unless skeptics are determined to remain so, Romney’s vow ought to be sufficient to reassure non-Mormons that it’s OK to vote for him if they happen also to agree with his positions on the major issues of the campaign.
But it should be noted that Romney devoted the greater part of his speech to describing and vigorously defending the Founders’ vision of the traditional America in which every individual is free to practice the faith of his choice — or the choice of no faith — without fear of the state. Romney thus offered himself as a man willing to stand his ground in the public square against attacks by those who would deprive people of faith of their voice in public policy because they are people of faith. These are the activists who in Romney’s words “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.”
The greatest intolerance is the stifling of public speech and ceremony that recognize what the Founders proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence — our “inalienable rights” are the gift of a higher power, not Caesar.
Romney has thus drawn a much-needed line in the sand beyond which the prophets of politically correct intolerance would do well never tocross.