Romney Speech: The Public Square Cannot Be Naked
The Corner provides excerpts from Mitt Romney’s speech today, which suggest it will focus on the broader strategic question of what role religion should play in the American public square instead of the granularity of Mormon theology:
There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adam’s words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.
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…
When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States…
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. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths…
It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.
We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism. They are wrong.
The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.
We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders – in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the God who gave us liberty…
These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements…
My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self -same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency…
The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be destroyed.
In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.
The Mormon tradition has some serious theological differences with Catholic and Protestant traditions. Yet, there are also theological differences which exist between Roman Catholicism and Protestant traditions, Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox traditions, Pentecostal and main line Protestant traditions, Evangelical and main line Protestant traditions, Christianity and Judaism, as well as Orthodox, Conservative and Reformed traditions of Judaism. We can argue about theological particulars but I haven’t found that to be interesting since college days when we debated all sorts of topics. And even then, those debates were often inconclusive or unproductive.
But the issue regarding what is the proper role of religion in the American public square – including how it informs the way we live together as a nation, a community, and a family – is a most important debate. That debate requires a certain moral seriousness, which can exist across differing religious traditions. It further requires us to take a serious look again at the principles of our Founding, which affirm that we are born with our rights which come from the Creator and “the laws of nature of and of nature’s God,” not the government. And, as the Founders stated, morality cannot be sustained without religious influence.
It is a debate which has not been conducted openly and honestly in recent times, as noted in the earlier Anchor Rising posts highlighted in the Extended Entry below.
If Romney’s speech reignites a public debate on what should fill our public square, he has then made an important contribution to our civic discourse.
The text of Romney’s speech is here. The video is here.
Here are some of the subsequent commentaries –
Kathryn Jean Lopez
South Carolina Republican Party leadership
Fox News Special Report with Brit Hume
Evangelical leaders on Hannity & Colmes
Wall Street Journal
Jason Lee Steorts
National Review editors
An NRO symposium
Kathryn Jean Lopez
International Herald Tribune
Richard John Neuhaus
Along with the American Founders, Romney strongly affirms the role of religion at the creation and through the history of this constitutional order…
…Those familiar with the discussion of these questions might say that the entirety of Romney’s address is an exercise in “civil religion.” That is closer to the truth of the matter. Civil religion is not another religion but is a mix of convictions about transcendent truths that are held in common and refracted through the particular religious traditions to which Americans adhere…
…His understanding that the naked public square is not neutral toward religion but is a project of the quasi-religion of secularism is entirely on target. His sharp contrast between America and a secularistic Europe, on the one hand, and jihadist fanaticism, on the other, is well stated.
It is too much to say, as he did, that Americans “share a common creed of moral convictions.” It is not a creed, just as America is not a church, but there is an undeniably Judeo-Christian moral ambiance within which we engage and dispute how we ought to order our life together. And, however much we may argue over particulars, Mr. Romney is surely right in saying that “no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.”…
…He was making a bid for the support of people who find themselves on one side of a culture war that they did not declare. If you wonder who did declare the war, you need go no further than the facing page of the Times on the same day, with its typically strident editorial attacking Mr. Romney and his argument about religion in American public life…
…I believe Mr. Romney has rendered a significant service in advancing the understanding of religion and public life in the American experiment…
Liberal Fundamentalism, Revisited
In the above post, the following Wall Street Journal editorial is referenced:
We have been following the extensive theological commentary in the press on the subject of politics and religion in the current presidential campaign. It might not otherwise have occurred to us that so many editorialists and columnists harbored so many deep, pent-up opinions on religious worship, voluntary school prayer or Christian fundamentalism.
What we have been looking for but have so far missed in this great awakening of religious writing is a short sermon on the subject of liberal fundamentalism…we would like to offer a few thoughts on what has been far and away the most messianic religion in America the past two decades – liberal politics.
American liberalism has traditionally derived much of its energy from a volatile mixture of emotion and moral superiority. The liberal belief that one’s policies would on balance accomplish something indisputably good generally made opposing arguments about shortcomings, costs or unintended consequences unpersuasive…
In retrospect, it’s clear that the moral clarity of the early civil-rights movement was a political epiphany for many white liberals…many active liberals carried along their newly found moral certitude and quasi-religious fervor into nearly every major public policy issue that has come along in the past 15 years. The result has been liberal fundamentalism.
…Not surprisingly, this evangelical liberalism produced a response. Conservative groups – both secular and religious – were created, and they quite obviously made the political success of their adversaries more difficult. Liberals don’t like that. So now, suddenly, we find all these politicians and columnists who are afraid someone might want to impose a particular point of view on them…
If some liberals are now afraid that certain Christian fundamentalists will reintroduce new forms of intolerance and excessive religious zeal into American political life, perhaps we should concede the possibility that they know what they’re talking about. But they might also meditate on the current election and why there has been an apparent rightward shift in political sentiment in the U.S. It could be that a great many voters have taken a good look at the fundamentalists on the religious right and the fundamentalists on the political left and made up their minds about which poses the greater threat to their own private and public values.
(Note: The WSJ wrote those words…in 1984.)
Thomas Krannawitter adds these thoughts:
…natural law jurisprudence represents the greatest threat to the liberal desire to replace limited, constitutional government with a regulatory-welfare state of unlimited powers.
…the principle that our rights come not from government but from a “Creator” and “the laws of nature and of nature’s God,” as our Declaration of Independence says, and that the purpose and power of government should therefore be limited to protecting our natural, God-given rights.
The left understands that if it is to succeed, these principles of constitutional government must be jettisoned, or at least redefined…the founders’ natural-law defense of constitutional government is fatal to liberalism’s goal…
From a liberal view, liberty cannot be a natural right, protected by a government of limited powers, because there are no natural rights…Instead, ‘the state…is the creator of liberty…
The size, scope and purposes of our government are no longer anchored in and limited by our Constitution…The American people need to be reminded of the source of their rights and persuaded that limited government is good; that the principles of the Constitution – which are the natural-law principles of the Declaration of Independence – are timeless, not time-bound; that without those principles, the noble ends set forth in the Constitution’s preamble can never be achieved.
George Washington said these words in his Farewell Address:
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness – these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them…Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.
Politics and religion are different enterprises…But they are constantly coupling and getting quite mixed up with one another. There is nothing new about this. What is relatively new is the naked public square. The naked public square is the result of political doctrine and practice that would exclude religion and religiously grounded values from the conduct of public business…
When religion in any traditional or recognizable form is excluded from the public square, it does not mean that the public square is in fact naked…
The truly naked public square is at best a transitional phenomenon. It is a vacuum begging to be filled. When the democratically affirmed institutions that generate and transmit values are excluded, the vacuum will be filled by the agent left in control of the public square, the state. In this manner, a perverse notion of the disestablishment of religion leads to the establishment of the state as church…
Our problems, then, stem in large part from the philosophical and legal effort to isolate and exclude the religious dimension of culture…only the state can…”lay claim to compulsive authority.”…of all the institutions in societies, only religion can invoke against the state a transcendent authority and have its invocation seconded by “the people” to whom a democratic state is presumably accountable. For the state to be secured from such challenge, religion must be redefined as a private, emphatically not public, phenomenon. In addition, because truly value-less existence is impossible for persons or societies, the state must displace religion as the generator and bearer of values…
[T]he notion of the secular state can become the prelude to totalitarianism. That is, once religion is reduced to nothing more than privatized conscience, the public square has only two actors in it – the state and the individual. Religion as a mediating structure…is no longer available as a countervailing force to the ambitions of the state…
If law and polity are divorced from moral judgment…all things are permitted and…all things will be done…When in our public life no legal prohibition can be articulated with the force of transcendent authority, then there are no rules rooted in ultimacies that can protect the poor, the powerless and the marginal…
Politics is an inescapably moral enterprise. Those who participate in it are…moral actors. The word “moral” here…means only that the questions engaged [in politics] are questions that have to do with what is right or wrong, good or evil. Whatever moral dignity politics may possess depends upon its being a process of contention and compromise among moral actors, not simply a process of accomodation among individuals in pursuit of their interests. The conflict in American public life today, then, is not a conflict between morality and secularism. It is a conflict of moralities in which one moral system calls itself secular and insists that the other do likewise as the price of admission to the public arena. That insistence is in fact a demand that the other side capitulate…
Appealing to all mankind, the Declaration’s seminal passage opens with perhaps the most important line in the document: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident.” Grounded in reason, “self-evident” truths invoke the long tradition of natural law, which holds that there is a “higher law” of right and wrong from which to derive human law and against which to criticize that law at any time. It is not political will, then, but moral reasoning, accessible to all, that is the foundation of our political system.
But if reason is the foundation of the Founders’ vision – the method by which we justify our political order – liberty is its aim. Thus, cardinal moral truths are these:
…that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness…That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed.
We are all created equal, as defined by our natural rights; thus, no one has rights superior to those of anyone else. Moreover, we are born with those rights, we do not get them from government – indeed, whatever rights or powers government has come from us, from “the Consent of the Governed.” And our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness imply the right to live our lives as we wish – to pursue happiness as we think best, by our own lights – provided only that we respect the equal rights of others to do the same. Drawing by implication upon the common law tradition of liberty, property, and contract – its principles rooted in “right reason” – the Founders thus outlined the moral foundations of a free society.
Dr. Pilon concluded his essay by writing:
In the end, however, no constitution can be self-enforcing. Government officials must respect their oaths to uphold the Constitution; and we the people must be vigilant in seeing that they do. The Founders drafted an extraordinarily thoughtful plan of government, but it is up to us, to each generation, to preserve and protect it for ourselves and for future generations. For the Constitution will live only if it is alive in the hearts and minds of the American people. That, perhaps, is the most enduring lesson of our experiment in ordered liberty.
In addition, the following posts from a series entitled “Theocrats, Moral Relativism & the Myth of Religious Tolerance” address some of the broader issues in this necessary and important public debate:
Part I: The Difference Between Religious Freedom & Religious Tolerance
In Part I, William Voegeli writes:
…The more practical problem with the fact-value distinction is that no one, including those who espouse it, actually believes it. No one is really “value-neutral” with respect to his own values, or regards them as values, arbitrary preferences that one just happens to be saddled with…
The problem with relativism is its insistence that all moral impulses are created equal – that there are no reasons to choose the standards of the wise and good over those of the deranged and cruel. A world organized according to that principle would be anarchic, uninhabitable. As Leo Strauss wrote, the attempt to “regard nihilism as a minor inconvenience” is untenable.
The problem with relativists is that they always dismiss other people’s beliefs, but spare their own moral preferences from their doctrine’s scoffing…
Justice, rights, moral common sense – either these are things we can have intelligent discussions about or they aren’t…
Thomas Williams adds:
…separation of church and state becomes separation of public life and religious belief. Religion was excluded from public conversation and relegated strictly to the intimacy of home and chapel. Religious tolerance is a myth, but a myth imposed by an anti-religious intellectual elite.
This “tolerant” mentality is especially problematic when applied in non-confessional countries -such as the United States – where an attitude of tolerance is not that of the state religion toward unsanctioned creeds, but of a non-confessional secular state toward religion itself…
Dignitatis Humanae, on the contrary, taught that religion is a human good to be promoted, not an evil to be tolerated. While government should not presume to command religious acts, it should “take account of the religious life of the citizenry and show it favor.” Religious practice forms part of the common good of society and should be encouraged rather than marginalized…
Part II: Are We Hostile Toward or Encouraging Religious Belief?
Part II quotes a Supreme Court decision written by William O. Douglas:
…We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. We guarantee the freedom to worship as one chooses. We make room for as wide a variety of beliefs and creeds as the spiritual needs of man deem necessary. We sponsor an attitude on the part of government that shows no partiality to any one group and that lets each flourish according to the zeal of its adherents and the appeal of its dogma. When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. Government may not finance religious groups nor undertake religious instruction nor blend secular and sectarian education nor use secular institutions to force one or some religion on any person. But we find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence…
Part III: Consequences of Excluding Religion From the Public Square
Part IV: Moral Recovery via Rediscovering the Meaning of Words
In the last post, Robert Reilly writes:
You cannot use “evil” as an adjective until you know it as a noun…the new struggle [today] is over the meaning of freedom…In Veritatis Splendor, the pope warned of “the risk of an alliance between democracy and ethical relativism, which would remove any sure moral reference point from political and social life, and on a deeper level make the acknowledgment of truth impossible.” If truth is impossible, so are the “self-evident truths” upon which free government depends. Then, one can understand everything in terms of power and its manipulation…[John Paul II] raised the hope that moral recovery is possible by calling for it.
Pope Benedict XVI adds these words:
No great, inspiring culture of the future can be built upon the moral principle of relativism. For at its bottom such a culture holds that nothing is better than anything else, and that all things are in themselves equally meaningless…The culture of relativism invites its own destruction…by its own internal incoherence…
To which I offered these thoughts:
Our heritage not only acknowledges the existence of moral truths but argues that these truths can be discovered by either faith or reason – thereby confirming what has been true for centuries: This public conversation about the role of moral truths in the public square does not require everyone to hold identical religious beliefs. It does require us to be morally serious and to firmly place moral relativism in the dustbin of history.
Moral truths belong in the public square to avoid the societal consequences of moral relativism. Only with a belief in moral truths can words become meaningful again and enable us to begin a public conversation about principles such as freedom and – from there – to discuss proper ways to introduce their meaning back into the public square.