Thursday, December 6, 2007

Freedom requires religion?

In a speech to the nation yesterday (in theory to address concerns over his Mormon faith), Mitt Romney made a very interesting, and rather troubling, statement. He said, "Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom."

It's a clever turn of phrase, but more than a little disingenuous. The ability to choose one's religious beliefs and practices without pressure from any outside source is heavily reliant upon the freedoms we're granted as US citizens. That much is true. But to suggest that "freedom requires religion" is to suggest that to be free, one must have religion. I think a legion of atheists might care to disagree with Mr. Romney.

The notion isn't entirely surprising, considering its source. Unfortunately, a great number of right-leaning, evangelical Christians, Mormons, Jews, etc., have fallen prey to the misguided notion that religion is essential to leading a good, meaningful life, and that this makes it an essential component of American government. But one thing does not equal the other, and the Framers included separation of church and state for this very reason. You are, and should be, free to choose your own faith or lack thereof. Belief in God alone does not make you a good or bad person.

The funny thing is, many of our most restrictive laws in this country are the result of religious fundamentalists who believe that it's their way or the high way for everyone else. Take, for instance, Wisconsin's extremely dubious ban on gay marriages and civil unions. The effort to get that passed was spearheaded by the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin (now the Wisconsin Family Council), an unabashedly religious/Christian group with far-right leanings. I don't think they're particularly interested in freedom for their fellow citizens.

Thankfully, the effort to overturn said amendment was recently given a boost by the courts. William McConkey, a "married, straight, Christian" political science teacher, filed a legal challenge against the amendment, claiming that it violated the constitutional right of Wisconsin voters not to vote on two or more issues at once. The Dane County circuit judge ruled in his favor, throwing out an objection from the state in the process.

Assistant Attorney General Thomas Balistreri, who represents the state, filed a motion to dismiss the suit on the grounds that McConkey lacked legal standing to bring the action because he suffered no harm as a result of the amendment. Balistreri said even if McConkey could show his rights as a voter were violated because two questions were wrapped into one, "that's not enough for standing. You have to have harm as a result of the violation," he said.

McConkey, who described himself as a "Christian, straight, married" father of nine and grandfather of seven when he filed the lawsuit, is not directly affected by the ban on gay marriages or the ban on civil unions. But Pines argued that the proposed amendment violated the Wisconsin Constitution because voters had to endorse either both concepts in the question or neither, and therefore were deprived of their rights to oppose one or the other.

McConkey has standing to proceed in the lawsuit, Pines said, because his voting rights were violated.

Thank God for people like McConkey, who break stereotypes about what their religion means in terms of their political and social beliefs, and who step up to challenge injustices. He had the freedom to choose his religion, and understands that his religion does not get to choose anyone else's freedom.


josh said...

"Romney rooted the speech in the literature of America’s civil religion. When he said "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom," he was paraphrasing Tocqueville: "Despotism may be able to do without faith, but freedom cannot."

His criticism of "the religion of secularism" recalled a radio address by President Reagan. Banning school prayer, Reagan said "is seen not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism."

Romney invoked John Kennedy’s famous speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He also alluded to other remarks by JFK. "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office," Romney said, "that oath becomes my highest promise to God." In 1960, Kennedy said that anyone who takes the presidential oath "is swearing to support the separation of church and state." A president who broke that oath, Kennedy said, would be committing a sin "for he has sworn on the Bible."

Romney said: "Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government." In his inaugural, Kennedy proclaimed that "the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.""

Emily said...

So what you're saying, Josh, is that Romney has no original thoughts of his own?

I'd also like to point out this other very troubling statement from his speech:

"Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me."

...effectively leaving out anyone who doesn't believe in his God. How is this acceptable from a major candidate for the highest office in the land? Let's not forget some of Romney's other recent not-so tolerant remarks about whether or not he'd appoint Muslims to his cabinet:

"They're radicals. There's no talking to them. There's no negotiating with them."

And finally, I'd like to add that Romney is no Reagan, and most certainly no JFK. And neither of those men were anything approaching saints.

The Lost Albatross