Five years ago, Massachusetts Governor and first-time GOP White House hopeful Mitt Romney declared, "People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president." Just not his faith, according to that most Republican of audiences at this week's Values Voters Summit. Hoping to capitalize on polls showing almost a third of white evangelicals would be less likely to vote for a Mormon, Rick Perry's campaign orchestrated an appearance by Texas mega-church pastor Robert Jeffress to denounce Romney's religion as a "cult" which does not qualify "you as a Christian."
The virulent anti-Mormon bigotry on display at the conclave is all the more striking, given Mitt Romney's recent statements against religious intolerance, religious tests for office and the right-wing crusade against the chimera of Sharia law. But during his dalliance with the religious right four years ago, Mitt Romney suggested that Muslims had no place in his Cabinet and atheists no place in the American community. Now, as JFK warned 51 years ago, the shoe is on the other foot.
In his much-hyped "Faith in America" speech in December 2007, Mitt Romney explained that "No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith" and warned:
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution."
Sadly, Romney during his last presidential bid endorsed precisely that very religious test for followers of Islam or no faith at all.
Years before Herman Cain suggested Muslims appointees must swear a special loyalty oath to serve in his Cabinet, Mitt Romney explained they need not apply period.
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. He answered, "...based on the numbers of American Muslims [as a percentage] in our population, I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified. But of course, I would imagine that Muslims could serve at lower levels of my administration."
Given his own membership in a small religious minority, one might expect more openness and tolerance from the Mormon Romney. But the next month, Romney doubled-down on his religious test during that "Faith in America" speech. The man who in 2006 declared, "People in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their president" in December 2007 added atheists to his list of those to be excluded from the American community:
"I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims."
Just as long as those frequent prayers aren't heard in President Romney's Cabinet Room.
As Atrios noted at the time, it was altogether fitting that Romney was introduced that day by President George H.W. Bush, who purportedly stated, "No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God." The former Massachusetts Governor made much the same point in his December 2007 appeal to Iowa's evangelical voters, proclaiming simply "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom."
That nonbelievers have no place in leading Mitt Romney's America was remarked upon by conservative commentators at the time.