Are Mormons Second-class Citizens?
During the presidential campaign of 1960, Senator John F. Kennedy had several issues to confront, not the least of which was his religion. Although there were numerous elected officials across the country who were members of the Catholic faith, no Catholic had ever risen to the level of Chief Executive. JFK decided to face it head-on. In his famous address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, he made it clear that his religion would not impact his decision-making as president. "I am not the Catholic candidate for President," he said. "I am the Democratic Party candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters, and the Church does not speak for me."
Kennedy questioned rhetorically whether one-quarter of Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Catholic. The future president, who had served with distinction in the U.S. Navy, added, "No one asked me my religion in the South Pacific."
A recent Gallup Poll indicated 22% of Americans would not be willing to vote for a Mormon for president. The poll also showed that 7% would refuse to vote for a Catholic and 9% would not vote for a Jew. Just about half, 49%, said they wouldn't vote for an atheist. We can only imagine what the numbers would be if they were asked about a Muslim for president.
Just to provide some historical perspective, in 1959, the year before JFK won election as the nation's first Catholic president, 25% of Americans polled, including 22% of Democrats, 33% of Republicans, and 18% of independents, said they would not vote for a Catholic. Okay, so JFK had a 25% disadvantage, while Mitt Romney, who is currently in the lead for the GOP nomination next year, has merely 22% to overcome. The fact that this is even a problem for one of our leaders at the top of the political food chain, especially when we're facing so many serious challenges to our future, is very troubling. Have we not learned anything about discrimination and bigotry since 1960?
Romney is not my first choice to lead us in a victory over President Obama in 2012, but his choice of religion has absolutely nothing to do with my preference. He has a record of reversing himself on issues whenever it appears to suit his political aspirations, and the healthcare bill he signed into law when he was Governor of Massachusetts is uncomfortably similar to ObamaCare.
However, I do believe he has shown enormous business acumen in his very successful career as an entrepreneur. He took a leave of absence about ten years ago, when he took over as President and CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee of the 2002 Winter Olympics. At the time, that Utah city's Olympics were scandal-ridden and in complete disarray until Romney took over and brought some excellent management skills to the effort. Making the rescue job seem simple, he came in with a positive attitude and hired competent, committed people, and the result was a successful Olympics that few had thought possible. To paraphrase JFK: no one asked Romney about his religion when he was saving the reputation of a world-renowned sporting competition.
If unemployment is over 8% next year and the economy is still struggling along with gas prices near $4 a gallon, along with other disastrous omens in the financial markets, it's my guess that any Republican candidate will beat Obama. Furthermore, if that candidate is someone with a clear vision for reviving the economy, backed up by a sterling reputation for achieving success with superior management and organizing and entrepreneurial skills, I have a feeling that the voters will overlook what church the candidate attends.
If you've lost your steady job in the last year and you've been picking up an unemployment check every month and don't see a steady job on the horizon, you want someone who you believe is capable of getting your life back on track. The average 9-to-5 working man or woman didn't cause this recession; it was caused by elected officials who spent more time dabbling in ideology than in pragmatic governing. On his way to the GOP nomination, I don't doubt that Romney's opponents will try to use his Mormonism against him, albeit with subtle references, but I think primary voters next year will be more interested in getting jobs and feeding their families than in the ecclesiastical affiliation of the leader who can make that happen.