Nardi: Romney and his religion

 

 

Tom Nardi

This election we have an unusual political phenomenon in the way of religion: Mitt Romney, one of the Republican frontrunners, is a Mormon.

Now you’d hope that at this point in our nation’s history, we wouldn’t consider questions about a candidate’s religion as valid concerns. You’d hope that John F. Kennedy effectively ended the “religious question” in 1960, when he delivered his “Religion Speech.” However, Romney has reportedly made negative comments on another religious group: Muslims.

In response to a question from Mansour Ijaz (a reporter at the Christian Science Monitor), at a fundraiser in late November, the candidate said that based on the numbers of American Muslims in the population, a cabinet position would not be justified. At another meeting, according to former Nevada Republican Party finance director Irma Aguierre, Romney said Muslims were radical and difficult to negotiate with.

Given his position that Muslims do not have sufficient numbers to participate in high American governance, it is stunning that Romney – himself a member of a religious minority – is planning to deliver a speech on religious tolerance in Texas today. Campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said, “This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty.” What liberty could Romney possibly mean, after he discounted the civic participation of millions of Americans?

It is intriguing that Romney would endorse what is essentially a quota system for government. The Pew Research Council found in 2002 that Mormons only comprised 2 percent of the American public. In Romney’s justification, that would hardly warrant a presidency controlled by a Mormon.

Clinton, Edwards, Huckabee, McCain, Obama and Thompson are all Protestant Christians, easily qualifying them as part of the “majority.” And Giuliani is Catholic, the largest single denomination in the United States. Should any of these factors privilege the other candidates over Romney, the Mormon?

At a press conference on Nov. 27, Romney sought to disavow his remarks, saying, “I don’t have boxes that I check off as to their ethnicity.” But Romney has been found guilty of saying that he would exclude Muslims on multiple occasions. If we have discounted the notion of religious quotas, then we are left with the prospect raised by Aguierre’s account.

I admit that I didn’t think much of Romney’s statements at first; it makes sense for a presidential candidate to leave his options open in order to select the best advisers in the field. However, the specifics of his comments are remarkable. Ijaz, the man whom Romney told that no Muslim would serve in a Romney cabinet, said he phrased his question as a hypothetical.

“I asked Mr. Romney whether he would consider including qualified Americans of the Islamic faith in his cabinet as advisers on national security matters, given his position that ‘jihadism’ is the principal foreign policy threat facing America today,” Ijaz said. That Romney denies even a hypothetical equally qualified Muslim American is startling.

This answer also follows the pattern of the “they’re radical” incident, which was corroborated by George Harris, current Nevada GOP finance chair, who remarked, “If he’s gonna be president of the United States, don’t you think you need to be a little more open-minded?”

The candidate is certainly skating a fine line over whether religion is an appropriate consideration, and his statements have called into question his own judgment. If Romney wants voters to accept him as a Mormon, that’s fine. I wouldn’t think any less of a candidate because of his or her religion, unless said candidate wanted to impose that religion on me.

But Romney is being a hypocrite if he thinks he can judge others on their religion and demand that his own be kept out of the conversation. There’s no problem in a religious minority wanting to be president. But there is a big problem in judging people fit or unfit for service based on their faith or lack thereof.

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Tom Nardi is a senior political science major from Philadelphia, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]