POST-GAZETTE - Res Publica

Faith in America

by David Trumbull

December 14, 2007

Well, Mitt Romney has made his long-awaited (and vastly over-hyped) speech on “Faith in America” –good title, by the way.

One paragraph in particular has gotten a lot of interest.

"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”

Liberals, naturally, jumped to attack something Mr. Romney did not say. Eugene Robinson newspaper columnist and assistant managing editor for The Washington Post reportedly has argued that Romney implied that nonreligious people cannot be proper Americans, and called that assertion a form of bigotry. Of course, Romney said no such thing. But liberals, believing that the purpose of government is to force other people to think and act as they do, cannot grasp that the rest of us have a quite different concept of the role of government. They believe the the individual should be the servant of the state. The rest of us, while not exactly reversing that, would say that the state should be the servant of the people.

Saying that freedom requires religion does not imply that free citizens must all be equally religious. Mr. Romney’s statement, however, does imply, when taken to its logical conclusion, that supression of religion will surely lead to supression of freedom. And that is demonstrably true, at least in the historic sense. The most unfree societies in living memory have been those where, as under communism, religion was banned or, as under Nazism, the state was elevated to the position of religion.

But what of Romney’s other assertion, that religion requires freedom? Americans embrace as an axiom of republicanism and unalterable principle of law that we shall have freedom of religion. Our constitutional protection of this natural right is something we guard fiercely. It is, quite simply, something that as a people we believe is the just and right policy for the state.

But is such political freedom a necessary condition for religion to flourish? Historically it was not manifestly so. Did not the early Church thrive under persecution? As Tertullian said “semen est sanguis Christianorum.” Doesn’t Mr. Romney’s statement imply that for religion to prosper in America the state must grant freedom? If so he seems to be making the same mistake as the liberals who make the state the end-all and be-all. And that points to the real problem that Romney has with religious conservatives. It’s not Mormonism (however weird that religion may be) that gives us concern about a Romney presidency; it’s the fear that, for all his mouthing of the “right” conservative words, Mr. Romney, at heart, operates from a fundamentally liberal world-view.