Some of you may think that I have a chip on my shoulder about atheists and their participation in American civic life, so I’ve taken offense too easily at Romney’s remarks. However, before you pronounce that judgment, read this.
I’m not overreacting. I and my fellow non-believers have been demonized as part of a desparate attempt to save a sinking campaign. Romney and his aides refuse to deny that they’ve done this. Sure, there are many times as many theists as seculars in America. But by some estimations we are about 15% of the total population — proportionally about as many as there are African-Americans compared to other racial groups. If Romney had demonized that minority instead of the one he did, how would you have reacted?
That is the problem with conflating patriotism with religiosity — it implies that irreligious people are also unpatriotic. Compare Romney’s statements with those of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, spoken nearly half a century ago:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
Compare, also, Romney’s sentiments to those of Thomas Jefferson (he who referenced the “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence):
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Or, consider the Supreme Court of the United States:
We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs. Torasco v. Watkins (1961) 367 U.S. 488.
Or, consider the words of Founding Father James Iredell, who said in the North Carolina Supreme Court:
…it is objected that the people of America may, perhaps, choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for?
Even if you’re religious, please don’t vote for a theocrat. Understand what such a vote is a vote for. Attacking a minority for short-term political gain is bad politics, bad policy, and just plain wrong. It is Governor Romney who is out of step with the ideals, traditions and laws of this nation, not the atheists he seeks to portray as lacking in patriotism or congruity with the American ideal. You’ve got plenty of non-theocratic choices available to you in this election.