ROMNEY’S RELIGION The Bill of Rights established freedom of religion in this country. The United States has no national religion and the government cannot prohibit the free exercise of any religion. The president can be Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Christian or atheist.
However, religion has played a role in American politics, especially when non-Protestants have run for the presidency. The 2012 Republican presidential ticket will have a Mormon and Roman Catholic, a combination that would have been unimaginable 40 years ago.
When John Kennedy ran for president in 1960, 150 Protestant clergymen and laymen, including Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, formed the Citizens for Religious Freedom whose goal was to make Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism an election issue. Kennedy took the criticism in stride, pointing out that no one asked him his religion when he served in the Navy in the South Pacific.
Catholicism no longer appears to be an issue, but religion still comes up in campaigns. In 2008, Sen. Barack Obama was chastised because the pastor of his church, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, criticized the country. People argued that Obama needed to distance himself from Wright if he wanted to be elected president.
When Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell introduced Romney at the announcement ceremony of Congressman Paul Ryan as Romney’s running mate, McConnell described Romney as a “man of faith.” Did that put Romney’s religious beliefs into play for political fodder? Yes.
During the presidential primaries, several Republican leaders thought so. When Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced his candidacy, several Southern Baptist ministers jumped to his support, blasting the Mormon Church as a “cult” and stating that Romney “is not a Christian.”
Though he had a nice rally in Pensacola, Romney didn’t win the county in the January primary. Newt Gingrich beat Romney, 39 to 35 percent, in Escambia County, while the rest of the state was overwhelmingly for Romney, 46 to 32 percent. A last minute push by local ministers gave Gingrich a push at the polls here.
Republicans and religious faith are intertwined. Romney’s religious beliefs are not those of the political base that elected George W. Bush in 2000 and gave the GOP control of the House in 2010. It will be problem in November 2012 for the GOP ticket.
Romney has told his supporters that he was a pastor of his temple off and on for over 10 years. His Mormon faith is a big part of his life. The Religious Right will be asked to set aside their faith for the good of the Republican Party.
That is asking a lot of voters, particularly in the South and Escambia County.