The United Faith of America

As I follow the campaign for the presidency in 2008, I can understand and engage in a lively debate on the myriad issues that will be faced by our next Chief Executive. But there is one issue that should have no place in this campaign: the religious affiliation of any candidate.

When I read about the references to Mitt Romney's Mormon faith it makes we wonder if we seek to elect a president or a minister to the highest office in the land. I'm moved to wonder if we've had any progress toward religious tolerance in the past half century. On September 12, 1960, Senator John Kennedy was compelled to give a speech in Houston to placate his anti-Catholic critics and declare to the nation that his religion should not disqualify him for occupancy in the White House.

He emphasized the critical issues facing the country, none of which were religion-based.
"...war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers....  But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured, perhaps deliberately. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again, not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in."
JFK was stating a fundamental reason for the flight of our forefathers to the New World: freedom from religious oppression. Those valiant pioneers crossed an ocean, losing family members along the way, in order to escape a land that judged, discriminated against, and, sometimes put to death, people whose faith conflicted with the dominant religion.  

Centuries later, it seems, we have become the antithesis of that for which our American ancestors fought and died. Moreover, 47 years after a candidate for president felt the need to remind his fellow countrymen that if an election is decided on that basis, then millions of Americans lost their chance to become president on the day they were baptized.  Which means that the whole nation would be the loser,

We have history being repeated today. Mitt Romney, standing up for his right to religious choice, is forced to humble himself in front of the country in which he was born, raised and to which he has made a substantial contribution, simply to satisfy the antediluvian prejudices of opposing creeds. To attack this man on his record as a political leader is fair game. To attack him because of his Mormon faith is a contemptible display of religious bigotry that says more about the attacker than the attacked. 

In Kennedy's historic speech, he said:
"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril."
As we know, Kennedy broke the barrier for Catholics and historians have judged him on his record in office, not on what church he attended. I'd like to say that this battle of one religion against another is un-American, but I'm afraid that it is very much American. It seems inconceivable at times that we have entered the 21st century; an age in which we can communicate with the world from a tiny hand-held contraption; an age in which we have satellites orbiting the moon and the planets; an age in which we can view live events on the other side of the world from the comfort of our living room sofas.

Yet it is an age in which a presidential candidate still has to explain his religion as he attempts to become the leader of the free world.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.
As I follow the campaign for the presidency in 2008, I can understand and engage in a lively debate on the myriad issues that will be faced by our next Chief Executive. But there is one issue that should have no place in this campaign: the religious affiliation of any candidate.

When I read about the references to Mitt Romney's Mormon faith it makes we wonder if we seek to elect a president or a minister to the highest office in the land. I'm moved to wonder if we've had any progress toward religious tolerance in the past half century. On September 12, 1960, Senator John Kennedy was compelled to give a speech in Houston to placate his anti-Catholic critics and declare to the nation that his religion should not disqualify him for occupancy in the White House.

He emphasized the critical issues facing the country, none of which were religion-based.
"...war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers....  But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured, perhaps deliberately. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again, not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in."
JFK was stating a fundamental reason for the flight of our forefathers to the New World: freedom from religious oppression. Those valiant pioneers crossed an ocean, losing family members along the way, in order to escape a land that judged, discriminated against, and, sometimes put to death, people whose faith conflicted with the dominant religion.  

Centuries later, it seems, we have become the antithesis of that for which our American ancestors fought and died. Moreover, 47 years after a candidate for president felt the need to remind his fellow countrymen that if an election is decided on that basis, then millions of Americans lost their chance to become president on the day they were baptized.  Which means that the whole nation would be the loser,

We have history being repeated today. Mitt Romney, standing up for his right to religious choice, is forced to humble himself in front of the country in which he was born, raised and to which he has made a substantial contribution, simply to satisfy the antediluvian prejudices of opposing creeds. To attack this man on his record as a political leader is fair game. To attack him because of his Mormon faith is a contemptible display of religious bigotry that says more about the attacker than the attacked. 

In Kennedy's historic speech, he said:
"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all. For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you, until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril."
As we know, Kennedy broke the barrier for Catholics and historians have judged him on his record in office, not on what church he attended. I'd like to say that this battle of one religion against another is un-American, but I'm afraid that it is very much American. It seems inconceivable at times that we have entered the 21st century; an age in which we can communicate with the world from a tiny hand-held contraption; an age in which we have satellites orbiting the moon and the planets; an age in which we can view live events on the other side of the world from the comfort of our living room sofas.

Yet it is an age in which a presidential candidate still has to explain his religion as he attempts to become the leader of the free world.

Bob Weir is a former detective sergeant in the New York City Police Department. He is the executive editor of The News Connection in Highland Village, Texas.  Email Bob.