Romney Draws Fire for Speech on Religion

By Jennifer Siegel

Published December 12, 2007, issue of December 14, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney gave a much publicized speech this week on religion, politics and his Mormon faith, and Jewish groups wasted little time in criticizing it.

While they endorsed Romney’s affirmation of the principles of religious toleration and the separation of church and state, both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee raised concerns about parts of the speech seemingly designed to help sell the former Massachusetts governor to conservative Christian voters who do not accept Mormonism as a legitimate expression of their faith.

The speech “reflected an effort we have seen in the current campaign — indeed on the part of many of the candidates — to appeal to religious voters on the basis of shared religiosity,” wrote Abraham Foxman, national director of the ADL, in an opinion piece published by JTA earlier this week. The candidates, Foxman cautioned, “are not seeking to convince the American people that one’s religious beliefs should not be a test for office. Rather they are emphasizing that their strongly held religious beliefs are yet another reason to vote for them.”

Romney’s speech — delivered December 6 at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas — was viewed widely as an effort to regain traction in Iowa, where the presidential candidate was once the GOP’s frontrunner but is now polling second to onetime Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister. In recent weeks, the Huckabee campaign has aggressively courted the state’s Christian voters, employing, among other things, a commercial in which the words “Christian leader” scroll across the screen.

In Texas, Romney’s delicately calibrated speech seemed tailor-made for his critics on the religious right, even as he argued that no American should face a religious test for office. Although Romney did not dwell long on the tenets of Mormonism, which differs theologically from the various Christian denominations in a number of significant ways, he affirmed his belief in Jesus as the “son of God and the Savior of Mankind.”

More broadly, Romney argued for free religious expression in the public square, a cause championed by conservatives. He decried what he termed the “new religion in America — the religion of secularism.” Freedom, he said, “requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”

“When Gov. Romney stated that ‘freedom requires religion’ he unfortunately was giving voice to a divide along religious lines that has no place in our body politic,” wrote Jeffrey Sinensky, the AJCommittee’s director of domestic policy, in a statement released to the press.

Marc Stern, who is a church-state expert and the American Jewish Congress’s general counsel, wrote in an e-mail to the Forward that he agreed that Romney’s speech “seemed to exclude non-believers from the American polity.” At the same time, Stern added, “Romney’s defense of the role of religion [in public life] is not entirely off base,” given the chorus of opposition from the left that confines “the role of religion to the purely personal [realm].”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • For Moroccan Jews, the end of Passover means Mimouna. Terbhou ou Tse'dou! (good luck) How do you celebrate?
  • Calling all Marx Brothers fans!
  • What's it like to run the Palestine International Marathon as a Jew?
  • Does Israel have a racism problem?
  • This 007 hates guns, drives a Prius, and oh yeah — goes to shul with Scarlett Johansson's dad.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.