Religion and politics are like oil and water

Thursday, December 6, 2007 | 10:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:48 a.m. CST, Wednesday, February 4, 2009

There are life questions that will never be answered except on faith. For some, it is faith in a God who has an ultimate plan for the travelers of this planet, for each individual, as we journey over the roads of life. For others, including myself, it is faith in the human spirit, that men and women are good, that we make our own future, that there really is no plan. In my own case, as a Jew and a Humanist (yes, they can co-exist), I am more concerned about the here-and-now as opposed to the hereafter. I am also a great believer in the holy writ of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

As a student of American history, I know church and state issues have plagued this nation since the Pilgrims stepped on that slippery rock in Plymouth Harbor. The history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony reveals that John Winthrop’s dream of the “great city on the hill” was not really so great. The Puritan Christian belief was as restrictive and punishing to nonbelievers as the persecution they escaped from in England and the Netherlands. No evangelical Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist today would want to live in those colonies.

Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and the other great minds of the American experiment understood that religion and government mix as well as oil and water. Yet in the past half-century, our political climate has three times challenged the political morals as delivered by these great men and women of the American Revolution. Today, it is presidential candidate Mitt Romney, as John Kennedy and Joe Lieberman in years past, who must justify his religious beliefs. This requirement, forced by the evangelical Christian community, is in apparent contradiction to the values set by the Constitution.

The language of the Constitution is not ambiguous or misleading. It says that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Yet religion has become the center of our election psyche. Kennedy told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in 1960, “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.” Today we add Mormons, atheists, pagans and Muslims.

Religion cannot be denied in the American heart. My grandmother voted for Barry Goldwater because she believed he was Jewish. (The story was that Goldwater’s maternal grandmother was Jewish.) However, religion is not the ultimate criterion for our elected officials. As Kennedy said almost 50 years ago, there are more important issues to consider than the religion of the candidate.

I could not receive an advanced copy of Thursday’s speech before deadline, but I understand that Romney’s speech will concern the role of religion in America. He will, and has, declared that JFK’s 1960 address provides the definitive answer to the question of religion in politics. Romney is likely to talk about the need for his belief in God and in our Constitution. I hope he speaks of the need of all creeds within our beef stew society. It is that mix of flavors that make this country great, not a single overwhelming spice.

To paraphrase our late president, Mitt Romney is not a Mormon candidate for president, as Hillary Clinton is not a female candidate for president or Barack Obama is not a black candidate for president. They are the Republican and Democratic candidates for president who happen to be Mormon, female and black.

Regardless of the outcome of the national election, someone will take an oath on January 20, 2008, that we all hold near to our patriotic hearts, that our next president “… will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution.” In our democratic pluralistic system, this I have faith.

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. He welcomes your comments at

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