A poll just released showed that about 1 in 5 Americans wouldn't vote for an otherwise qualified Presidential candidate if he were Mormon (insert Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman).
When you look at political affiliation, the breakdown of people unwilling to vote for a Mormon President breaks down like this:
- 18% of Republicans won't
- 19% of Independents won't
- 27% of Democrats won't
The difference in political opinion probably stems from the fact that Mormons are usually very conservative, and have vociferously supported anti-gay-marriage legislation in states such as Hawaii and California. Conservative block-voting, blurring boundaries between church and state, and trying to legislate personal religious views are not very popular ideas among liberal Democrats. The only other real differences in opinion toward Mormon candidates is determined by level of education, where college graduates were less likely to not vote for a Mormon candidate (12%) than someone who hasn't gone to any college (31%). However, it didn't seem to matter where you are from, your gender, age, or what religion you belong to.
This doesn't mean the writing is on the wall for Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman. An article from the LA Times highlights the fact that in 1959 - the year before John F. Kennedy became president - 25% of Americans said they would not vote for a Catholic. So Mormon politicians have an uphill - but not insurmountable - battle.
But what about people who don't believe in God (or at least admit it)? What's their chances of becoming President? Virtually nil; According to the same Gallup poll, only 49% of people would vote for a well-qualified Presidential candidate if they were atheist.
And Romney, who is trying to convince voters that a candidates religious beliefs are irrelevant (at least his own), seems to agree that atheists have something fundamentally wrong with them. Ironic, isn't it? In his 2007 speech, where he tried to summon the spirit of JFK and convince people to vote for him despite his Mormon faith, Romney took the time to throw some rocks at America's real enemies of freedom: atheists!
While trying to make the standard conservative point that our freedom is ensured by religious belief, Romney said "Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. […] Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.”
He then goes on to make the point that separation of church and state are necessary, but that "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.'"
Here is the problem with Romney's views:
1. Political, individual, or religious freedom does not rest on belief in God. Atheism just means you don't believe in God, not that you don't believe in freedom. However, the association between atheism and communism was branded into the American psyche during the Red Scare of the 50's, and continues to linger today. Our form of government was derived from classical Roman and Greek political ideals; not from belief in God. Our Constitution doesn't even mention God.
2. If you are trying to convince people that religious belief does not affect political qualification, then don't turn around and say that another misunderstood religious minority (atheists) are somehow unqualified. At least he didn't say, like George H.W. Bush did, that atheists shouldn't even be considered as citizens. But saying that people who believe in the separation of church and state "are intent on establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism" - and that "religion and freedom endure together, or perish alone" comes pretty close.
3. Our Founding Fathers were suspicious of religion. That is why they were insistent that there be no state sponsored religion, and that there be a wall of separation between church and state. However, isn't the insistence by conservatives today that our country was founded on the principles of Christianity - or even on the principles of theism - nothing more than support for the state sponsored religion of theism? Why marginalize people, as Romney does, simply because they don't believe as he does? Isn't this the definition of religious intolerance?
This is all very ironic, coming from a guy hoping that more religious tolerance be showed towards him, but seemingly unwilling to give it to others.