The Post has given Pastor Robert Jeffress space to make his case for religious favoritism. He complains: “Hearing Mitt Romney’s surrogate Bill Bennett refer to me as a bigot and Jon Huntsman call me a ‘moron’ last week after my controversial comments on Mormonism, amid calls for civility and tolerance in public discourse, reminds me of the exclamation: ‘We will not tolerate intolerance!’ But beyond the personal insults, I am concerned that these men are attempting to prematurely marginalize religion as a relevant topic in elections.”
For starters, Bennett is not a Romney surrogate. And, moreover, no one is attempting to “marginalize religion.” These leaders, as well as Gary Bauer, spoke out about religious intolerance and the danger of applying a religious litmus test to the presidency or any public office.
Jeffress writes that interviewers have attempted to “eliminate through intimidation religion as a criterion by which to choose a candidate.” Actually, the Constitution does that. And that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and others have been asked about their faith and how it affects their decision-making disproves Jeffress’s thesis that religion has been drummed out of the public square. Jeffress argues that we should know how candidates’ faith influences their views. Most would not disagree. But that, of course, is far different from ruling candidates out because they are Jews or Mormons.
He next misconstrues the importance of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright affair in 2008. It didn’t matter what denomination Wright came from or what President Obama’s views on heaven and hell were. What was critical was whether Wright’s departures into anti-American vitriol and anti-Semitism were known and tolerated by the man who wanted to be president.
Then Jeffress reverts to preferring a competent Christian to a competent non-Christian. Sure, he could vote for Romney. But as a last resort after “real” Christians lost.
The best response to this mish-mash of constitutional ignorance, historical fiction and bigotry comes from Mitt Romney. He spoke eloquently, maybe his finest moment as a candidate, last night when he explained:
What I actually found was most troubling in what the reverend said in the introduction was he said, in choosing our nominee, we should inspect his religion. And someone who is a good moral person is not someone who we should select; instead, we should choose someone who subscribes to our religious belief.
That — that idea that we should choose people based upon their religion for public office is what I find to be most troubling, because the founders of this country went to great length to make sure — and even put it in the Constitution — that we would not choose people who represent us in government based upon their religion, that this would be a nation that recognized and respected other faiths, where there’s a plurality of faiths, where there was tolerance for other people and faiths. That’s bedrock principle.
And it was that principle, Governor, that I wanted you to be able to, no, no, that’s wrong, Reverend Jeffress. Instead of saying as you did, “Boy, that introduction knocked the ball out of the park,” I’d have said, “Reverend Jeffress, you got that wrong. We should select people not based upon their faith.” Even though — and I don’t suggest you distance yourself from your faith any more than I would. But the concept that we select people based on the church or the synagogue they go to, I think, is a very dangerous and — and enormous departure from the principles of our — of our Constitution.
Last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) wrote on this theme, also in The Post:
One result of our religious freedom is the extraordinary tolerance and respect Americans generally have for religions different from their own. Another is the development of a set of shared religious values that constitute what President Abraham Lincoln called America’s “political religion” and Walt Whitman praised as “a sublime and serious Religious Democracy” in this nation.
In 2000, when Al Gore gave me the privilege of being the first Jewish American to be nominated for national office, I personally experienced the American people’s generosity of spirit, fairness and acceptance of religious diversity.
Jeffress is very wrong in conflating religion and values, and Perry, who wants to be president, is wrong not to do more than “disagree” with Jeffress. Jeffress is calling not only for Mormons to be discriminated against but also Jews and other non-Christians as well.
Gov. Perry, doesn’t that sentiment deserve a rebuke? It makes me wonder what values Perry holds and whether he fully comprehends the role of the president in defending the Constitution and exercising moral leadership. Conservatives expected Obama to denounce Wright. Why shouldn’t we expect Perry to denounce Jeffress? Perhaps for Perry it’s all about whose religion is being gored.