Do We All Need To Sing From The Same Hymnal?
It wasn't my parents' finest hour.
I wasn't politically conscious in 1960, being barely three years old and more worried about "Cartoon Alley" than the missile gap. I knew nothing of Kennedy vs. Nixon or the fact that some in the country were having a hard time dealing with the fact that a Catholic was in a position to become President of the United States.
Kennedy went on to win--in large part because of a speech he gave in Houston amid growing protest from religious leaders including the Rev. Billy Graham. He told America that his first allegiance would be to his oath of office--that he'd taken oaths before to serve in Congress and the military without Vatican conflict. Kennedy said he wouldn't get his marching orders from the Pope, and promised that if there ever was a time when he found himself in some sort of religious conflict, that he'd resign the presidency. He reminded America about Article Six of the Constitution, which says there shall be no religious test to hold federal office. And, Kennedy said that where he goes to church on Sunday should have no bearing on his fitness for office.
Kennedy won, but never lived to finish his term.
I remember asking mom and dad if they'd voted for him, and they, to their credit, were brutally honest in telling me that no, they did not. They said that they were, as they put it, "afraid that the Pope would be running the country."
Kennedy is long gone, but the issue of candidate religion is very much alive in 2007.
Depending on who you listen to, today's speech by Republican Mitt Romney was either a brilliant discourse on his Mormon faith and it's role in his White House bid, or a contrived, strategic media opportunity meant to thwart the Iowa poll spike being enjoyed by one of his fellow GOP members, Mike Huckabee who is gaining strength among evangelicals.
Kennedy was right. Article Six reads thusly: "The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."
There is, indeed, no such Test. Or, is there?
There seems to be, in the minds of many Americans who think that only a Christian can be President--not just any Christian, but one who believes in their particular brand. It is a qualification without compromise, and it's sad in that it's exactly what our founding fathers seemed try to steer clear of when they wrote the "test" rule in.
The Kennedy speech put the religion question to rest for some 16 years--historians I read seem to think it once again became an issue with born-again Jimmy Carter in 1976. It hasn't left us since. The Constitution contains no religion tests, but campaigns make sure faith is a talking point, especially if it can be used to sway a constituency or persuade large voting blocks.
Isn't it strange that Romney was able to run for other public offices without his Mormon beliefs impeding his candidacies? What about his father, former Michigan Governor George Romney, who was a serious presidential candidate in 1968? His bid didn't derail because he was a Mormon--it folded when he said he'd been "brainwashed' by the military while touring Vietnam. How many people bring up the fact that the Democratic majority leader, Harry Reid, is a Mormon?
Did Romney's speech do anything to bolster his White House bid, or will it land on deaf ears? Should you vote for a presidential candidate based on what he or she thinks on the issues, or where they go to church on Sunday?
Or, if they even go at all?