I was disappointed in Mitt Romney's statement today on the role of religion in politics. It was billed in the press as Romney's version of the famous John F. Kennedy speech to the Houston Ministerial Association back in 1960.
But the two addresses were not very similar. Kennedy said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.... 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"
Romney took a different tack. While he affirmed religious liberty in principle, he said we are in danger of taking church-state separation too far and that we are at risk of establishing a religion of secularism. I strongly believe that he is mistaken. The founders of our Constitution clearly meant for religion and government to be completely separate. That's the only way we can have real religious freedom in our incredibly diverse society.
I was particularly outraged that Romney thinks that the Constitution is somehow based on faith and that judges should rule accordingly. That's a gross misunderstanding of the framework of our constitutional system. Judges should make their decisions based on civil and constitutional law, not religious concepts.
I think it is telling that Romney quoted John Adams instead of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison. Jefferson and Madison are the towering figures who gave us religious liberty and church-state separation.
I was also disappointed that Romney doesn't seem to recognize that many Americans are non-believers. Polls repeatedly show that millions of people have chosen to follow no spiritual path at all. Romney ought to have recognized that fact.
I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and I believe in my faith. But I believe just as strongly that non-believers are good Americans too. I wish Romney had said so.
My organization, Americans United, is nonpartisan and we take no position on candidates for any elective office. But I encourage all candidates to stand up for separation of church and state.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. (www.au.org)