A Religious Test For Office
Doug has posted over the last day or so about Mitt Romney’s speech on religion and politics… Romney, as a Mormon, is facing some interesting attacks from the evangelical wing of the Republican party, who don’t regard Mormons as “true Christians”. Doug’s opinion is that such a worry is pointless, and that voters should spend more time worrying about his policies than his piety.
Such an idea is echoed by the founding fathers, and enshrined directly into the Constitution.
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Now, in another comment thread, Doug and I both believe that what’s going on is not a religious test as described in the Constitution.
But should voters consider religion when they decide who to vote for?
In a democracy, I would think that voters would most definitely consider religion when voting. After all, religion is a core belief system tied at the root level to morality for most voters, and putting someone into a position of power who shares your morality is the best way to ensure that your morality is that which is law.
As an example, look at the fight between those who desire sharia law and those who do not. Many Muslims in the mid-east regard Islam as a religion that cannot be separated from law. Even in Western society, artifacts such as blue laws show that there is a desire within human nature to mandate or prohibit that which follows your core beliefs, as described by your religion.
Humans, by their very nature, will gravitate to politicians that agree with their own religious beliefs. I, of course, am no different. I am an atheist, and believe in a secular, reason-based justification for individual liberty and natural rights theory. Thus, my religious test for a candidate is one that puts his own reason and respect for individual rights above that of his religion, at least as it pertains to his goals for governance. I realize that in America in 2007, I am not going to find a candidate in any major party that self-describes as an atheist. But at the same time, in America in 2007 there are many people inside and outside of politics who view their religion as less of a driving force in their lives, and more of a social activity. Thus, I do not fear electing theists to office, but I certainly fear those who I believe would decide policy based on faith, and not on reason, like Mike Huckabee (and George W. Bush).
One may suggest that evangelicals should not automatically rule out Romney due to his Mormon faith, and that is true, if one considers reason and liberty to be the goal of America rather than upholding a Christian society. However, that belies a misunderstanding of the evangelical movement. An evangelical may not be primarily in favor of the sort of liberty someone like I might favor. After all, I’m in favor of civil unions for gays and pro-polygamy. I have no problem with drinking, gambling, or the legalization of drugs. I think that Sunday is a great day to buy beer, because the last thing I want to experience is a Super Bowl party without beer!
For me, I will vote for a politician who I believe will vote for liberty, regardless of whether he’s a Christian or a Scientologist. As long as I believe that a politician will place the value of individual liberty above his personal religious beliefs (given the non-piety of most Americans, usually this is not a difficult test), I can vote for him.
But this says that I value individual liberty more than religious beliefs, not surprising for a self-described atheist. This is not the case for many devoutly religious people. They value piety to the Lord above individual liberty, and thus have a much different calculation when they head to the polls. They would never vote for an atheist, a Muslim, a Wiccan or a Scientologist, because they view the goals those politicians to follow as opposite to the goals they want to achieve.
To argue that one should not take this into account when voting is a futile argument. The fact that Romney is or is not a viable candidate is an effect of a change in American society, and not a cause. To argue with current evangelicals whether they should vote for Romney is bound to be fruitless; it’s like arguing with a vegetarian whether you should get your steak medium rare or well done. At best, the argument that many are making to the evangelicals about voting for Romney is like arguing to a vegetarian that eating fish is okay, because fish isn’t quite like a normal animal (and thus that Mormonism is “close enough” to their brand of Christianity to vote for him over some godless heathen Democrat).
The simple fact is that we’re talking about core principles here. I refuse to vote for someone like Mike Huckabee, because I believe that he is guided primarily by his religious principles, and his interpretation of religion guides him far away from individual liberty (as his nationwide smoking ban proposal shows). For an evangelical, someone like Mitt Romney may be simply too far away from their core principles in order to receive a vote, as they view Joseph Smith as a heretic to their true religion, not a prophet.
When you’re talking about core principles, the only way to argue is on the principle level. That can’t be done in the sound-bite world of today’s politics.