Politics & Policy

Latter-Day Speaker

Romney on religion.

Did Mitt Romney do what he needed to do speaking about religion in Texas on Thursday? National Review Online asked a few conservatives for their reactions.

Maggie Gallagher

What is the role of God in the American Creed? Romney serendipitously spoke just as the 9th Circuit wrestled with the question: What is God doing in the Pledge of Allegiance and on the almighty dollar? (Listen in here.)

Romney’s answer?

We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust,” said Mitt, “We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders — in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the God who gave us liberty.’

The reason God is on our coins and in our Pledge is not that He is practically necessary to democratic liberty, but rather that He is the philosophical foundation of it. Government may violate our rights but it can never repeal them.

Will this graceful rearticulation of the American Creed help Romney get elected in Iowa? It can’t hurt. But he has always been an improbable champion for evangelicals; Romney’s fate now depends on how well Huckabee survives the sudden, intense scrutiny his new frontrunner status confers.

– Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist.

Mark Hemingway

Regarding the Romney speech, first I want to say that on a superficial level he was fantastic. He has good speech writers and the delivery was terrific, I could listen to this man speechify for eight years no problem.

As for the content of the speech, he said a lot of the right things and I think it has been well-received for a reason. He wisely sidestepped the “Are Mormons Christian?” debate and deftly avoided discussing doctrine and at the same time made it clear that he stands strong in his faith.

However, for me personally, there were points that veered far to close to universalist sentiments and/or were tantamount to an endorsement of civil religion. That last anecdote about Sam Adams the Continental Congress, though well-received, was nauseating on that level. The notion that public prayer would be acceptable, so long as the person praying is a “patriot” and of “piety and good character,” is a very poor notion. But I’m a “confident and independent” Lutheran, and we tend to be very careful about making a distinction between being ecumenical and endorsing sentiments that erase distinctions in belief and nudge us toward syncretism.

Further, I know every great speech has to have that one piece of imagery you can hang your hat on, but I’m not buying this “our nation’s symphony of faith” bit, which is a poor metaphor for tolerance. If we have a symphony of faith, I’m not sure I’d want box seats as the Scientologist on the oboe is always a quarter-tone sharp and somebody needs to let militant Islam know that we definitely don’t need more cowbell.

But on the whole, I think Romney did what he needed to do and it will be well-received even by skeptics. It’s just too bad he had to do this in the primary rather than waiting to get to the General election. Voters have short memories, but for now Romney has done good.

Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

Seth Leibsohn

Governor Romney gave a strong speech on religious liberty. My fear regarding his candidacy, is that he broke an unspoken agreement — that if he would not make his religion an issue, others wouldn’t or shouldn’t either. But he opened the door today, and now there is little defense that can be raised when people (voters or reporters) want to walk in.

There was a reason Governor Romney’s speech on faith and public life was a four day news story (so far). If John McCain announced he was going to deliver a speech on faith and public life, it would not have received the same coverage — for a reason. There is a curiosity about the faith that guides Governor Romney’s philosophy in a way there is not about any other candidate. For that reason, the whole idea of this speech was honeycombed with tripwires. As it was, the speech Governor Romney did give could have been given by any of the candidates; it was, as I said, a strong speech on religious liberty. Something big was missing, however–from the billing of the speech to the speech itself, which promised to share insights into how his ‘faith would inform’ his ‘presidency’ and ‘appropriate’ ‘questions regarding an aspiring candidate’s religion.’

Governor Romney today made an issue that was secondary or tertiary into an issue of primary importance: his religion.

– Seth Leibsohn is a fellow at the Claremont Institute.

John J. Miller

The speech was good. If Romney becomes president, it may be remembered as great — a key moment in the narrative of how he won, inevitably compared to the famous JFK speech and perhaps even likened to Lincoln at Cooper Union.

His praise of “the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims” recalls the words of Pope John Paul II in Crossing the Threshold of Hope, when the late pontiff admires “the religiosity of Muslims” and their “fidelity to prayer.”

Romney isn’t the world’s greatest speechmaker. In several forums, he has flopped. Not today.

– John J. Miller is the national political reporter for National Review.

Kathleen Parker

Mitt Romney did what he needed to do — and more. He did what we needed to do, which is to remember and appreciate the profound implications of religious liberty, as he put it. He showed us our better selves and did what an American president should do: He set an example of intelligent civility and refined humility.

By his eloquent words, Romney not only inoculated himself against future invasions of privacy in matters of faith, but he also elevated all who listened. Hearing his speech was like listening to Handel’s Messiah after being tortured for years by Black Sabbath. Music to American ears, his “symphony of faiths” speech was more than a great oration. It is an important, historical document that comes at a critical time in American history.

As Romney reminded us, we’ve seen where religious persecution leads, both here and elsewhere. Unlike those who are bullied and murdered in countries where theocratic tyranny is common, we are fortunate to live in a nation where reason and religion are allies. Even so, that delicate marriage is like any other – it requires hard work and constant vigilance.

Romney has shone a necessary light on that task.

Kathleen Parker is a South Carolina-based syndicated columnist.

John J. Pitney Jr.

Romney rooted the speech in the literature of America’s civil religion. When he said “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” he was paraphrasing Tocqueville: “Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot.”

His criticism of “the religion of secularism” recalled a radio address by President Reagan. Banning school prayer, Reagan said “is seen not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism.”

Romney invoked John Kennedy’s famous speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He also alluded to other remarks by JFK. “When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office,” Romney said, “that oath becomes my highest promise to God.” In 1960, Kennedy said that anyone who takes the presidential oath “is swearing to support the separation of church and state.” A president who broke that oath, Kennedy said, would be committing a sin “for he has sworn on the Bible.”

Romney said: “Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government.” In his inaugural, Kennedy proclaimed that “the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.”

– John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

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