No Freedom Without Religion?

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Friday, December 7, 2007

RELIGIOUS liberty is, as Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney declared yesterday, "fundamental to America's greatness." With religious division inciting violence across the globe, he is right to celebrate America's tradition of religious tolerance. He's right, too, that no one should vote against him, or for him, because he is a Mormon. We only wish his empathy for religious minorities such as his own extended a bit further, to those who do not believe in God.

It is regrettable that 47 years after John F. Kennedy felt the need to promise voters that his Catholic faith would not dictate his conduct as president, Mr. Romney felt compelled to offer similar assurances that "no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions." It's regrettable, too, that the skepticism and even hostility some voters feel toward Mormonism has been played upon by the man who has emerged as his chief rival in Iowa, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who is running commercials that proclaim him to be a "Christian leader." That is why Mr. Romney felt the need to detail his creed: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind." If, as Mr. Romney correctly says, the country's founders took care not to impose a religious test for any public office, a candidate's belief, or not, in the divinity of Christ ought to be irrelevant.

Where Mr. Romney most fell short, though, was in his failure to recognize that America is composed of citizens not only of different faiths but of no faith at all and that the genius of America is to treat them all with equal dignity. "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom," Mr. Romney said. But societies can be both secular and free. The magnificent cathedrals of Europe may be empty, as Mr. Romney said, but the democracies of Europe are thriving.

"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government," Mr. Romney said. But not all Americans acknowledge that, and those who do not may be no less committed to the liberty that is the American ideal.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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