The speech is already being compared to the 1960 speech then-Senator JFK gave on his Catholicism to a group of Protestant ministers in which he assured them that as president he wouldn’t govern according to his Catholic faith but rather the laws of the land. Steven Stark at Real Clear Politics, on the other hand, believes the speech isn’t like JFK’s, and explains here why he thinks the speech won’t help Romney much.
Romney’s giving this speech mostly due to the fact that his Mormon religious beliefs have come under attack from conservative Christian quarters. There haven’t been any direct attacks on Romney on from surging candidate and conservative Christian Mike Huckabee (who, incidentally, likely will be surging in the other direction considering his admitted ignorance of the release of the NIE report on Iran, an admission which caused quite a stir earlier this week), but I think it’s safe to say that questions about Romney’s faith have probably helped the Huckabee campaign, since they are the two candidates who bring up religion the most in their speeches.
Personally, as a conservative Christian myself, Romney’s Mormon beliefs have never been a factor for me. It’s his seeming flip flops on several issues which has been my primary cause for alarm. However, I realize that for some people, his religious beliefs are a concern, and with that in mind, I wanted to link up to a good piece Jon Meacham has written in Newsweek today (h/t: Betsy Newmark) on what he thinks Romney should say in his speech in order to answer the criticisms that have been directed at him:
It is not an easy speech to give. The role of religion in politics tends to create extreme positions—or at least those who hold the more extreme positions are a good deal louder than more moderate voices. On the one hand there is a strong sense in the country that America is on the road to theocratic rule, that evangelical Christians are on the march and that the Founders were all about the “wall of separation” written about by Thomas Jefferson. On the other hand are many religious people who mistakenly think that America was founded as a “Christian nation” (which it was not), that the Founding Fathers were apostles in knee britches (which they were not) and that liberal activist judges have systematically stolen the country’s religious heritage (which they have not).
Neither side has it right. The separation of church and state—including the explicit prohibition against a religious test for office in the Constitution—was essential to the Founders, but they also understood that religion and politics were always going to be mixed up together. The critical thing was to manage this human reality, to minimize its ill effects and to make the most of the possible good it could do. And so if Romney wishes to argue that religion is important but not all-important, and that judging candidates by sectarian labels is not what America was intended to be about, then history is on his side.
These questions are hardly new. In 1800 there were advertisements saying voters could have “Adams and God, or Jefferson and no God.” Three decades later Andrew Jackson had to resist the formation of a “Christian Party in Politics.” Abraham Lincoln buried a proposed constitutional amendment designed to declare the nation’s dependence on, and allegiance to, Jesus. The only words FDR spoke in public on D-Day were those in a prayer of his composition, which he read over the radio to an audience of 100 million Americans, perhaps the largest mass prayer in human history. And the last line of the ur-text of modern liberalism, JFK’s inaugural, was: “On earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”
The question is just who this God is, this God of the American public square. John McCain stumbled recently when he said that the Constitution had established the United States as a Christian nation, which it most decidedly did not. In fact the wondrous thing about the Founding of the nation is how consciously and how carefully the Founders went about securing liberty of conscience. Washington said that the government of the United States was “to give to bigotry no sanction â€¦ and to persecution no assistance.” Jefferson said that his Virginia act for religious liberty was “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindu, and infidel of every denomination.” And Madison said, “The religion of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man.”
Romney ought to call on Americans to recover and respect what Benjamin Franklin called our public religion: the belief that there is a divine force at work in the world, by whatever name, and that we render homage to it by doing good to others. Acts of charity and grace need not be religiously inspired, but many are. Religious people can be intolerant, cruel and exclusionary; they can also be broad-minded, kind and welcoming. And the same can be said of people who adhere to no religious faith. Yet it is the case that many Americans are religious—or say they are—and that the fundamental promise of the Founding, that all men are created equal, is grounded in the divine, as the gift of the “Creator.”
Make sure to read the whole thing.
Update 1: Here’s the full text of Romney’s speech.
Update 2: The speech is getting some pretty good reviews in the blogosphere. Hugh Hewitt, a big Romney fan, thought the speech was “magnificent.” I read it, but didn’t watch/hear it. What I read, I liked. Here’s the video link to the speech.