I do hope Hugh Hewitt now realizes I’m not some sort of religious bigot. I wrote a review of Hugh’s new book on Romney, which you can read here. Hugh took serious exception to one passage, which you can read about here. I was on his show tonight to talk about it and I think we agreed while still disagreeing about some of the fundamentals. Hugh wants some bright lines I’m not prepared to give.
Here’s where things apparently got controversial.
Hugh started his book with a couple of passages. The first was his statement that “Our nation’s abhorrence of religious bigotry was embodied in Article VI of the Constitution, which prohibits ‘religious tests’ for office.”1
Now, coupled with this statement of Hugh’s from the next page
If any significant number of voters disqualify Romney from their consideration because of his faith, it will be a disheartening breach of the Framers’ contract with themselves and their political heirs on the subject of religion’s place within the American Republic.”
I fell under the distinct impression that Hugh expected Article VI, Clause 3 to apply to the American people, not just the government. Hugh told me tonight he understands that it only applies to the American government, but he still thinks the American people should have no religious test it seems.
Anyway, that’s background for what Hugh took to be so offensive from my article. Here is the offending passage:
In another contradiction, Hewitt writes, in the chapter titled “Mitt Romney’s Advantages”: “Start with the Mormons. The basic unit of the LDS church is the ward, comparable to a Catholic parish. Wards are collected into ‘stakes,’ again, comparable to a Catholic diocese. There are eight stakes in Iowa, which include 85 wards. . . . And in those 85 wards will be an incredible not-so-secret weapon–a core of young people . . . not to mention experienced missionaries.” So “the Romney campaign will certainly attract hundreds of thousands of Mormons. . . . This is a standard feature of American politics, and much to be celebrated.” But this begs the question: If we can expect heavy participation by Mormon missionaries as grassroots activists for an American presidential campaign, why can we not ask questions about Romney’s Mormon beliefs and why can Americans not be concerned? After all, contrary to the popular perception of the left and media, there were no organized platoons of Presbyterian missionaries knocking on doors for Reagan, brigades of Baptists for Bill Clinton, nor marauding packs of Methodists for George W. Bush. This is something relatively unseen and new to most Americans –including many deeply evangelical Americans who believe Mormonism to be a cult, or at best a religion that has some shared roots, but is fundamentally grounded in heresies.
The bold part was emphasized by Hugh, who found it “troubling” and wrote
I find the effort to mainstream religious tests and even religious bigotry to be abhorrent and far outside the political mainstream. As I argue at length in the book, the effort by those on the left to introduce this sort of rhetoric should have led to their shaming, and I am sorry to say the same about Erick’s drive-by. Mormons are American citizens with every right to be enthusiastic about the candidacy of a co-religionist, and that enthusiasm is not a license to begin a theological inquisition at a public figure whose campaign is about the direction of America and his qualifications to lead it.
But that gets us back to where we both agree and disagree. I agree with Hugh that there are a lot of people, particularly on the left, who will use Romney’s religion to display their religious bigotry. At the same time, I’m not prepared to shut down the discussion.
Hugh, also in his introduction writes
But if Romney is attacked–openly or sub rosa–for the particulars of his faith . . . then the country will have walked out on one of our most vital founding principles.
I just don’t think this is very helpful. I understand Hugh’s concerns, but I just can’t bring myself to find fault in a deeply evangelical Christian who will not vote for Romney because he is not a Christian. Certainly Hugh and I may disagree, but I also understand the Christian who is so deeply committed to his religion that he will not vote for someone outside his religion. Certainly if Romney is *attacked* for his faith in the great debate of 2008, it will be wrong and we should all be willing to pile on.
Nonetheless, I do think there will be a large number of people in the evangelical community who might hear about “an incredible not-so-secret weapon–a core of young people . . . not to mention experienced missionaries” and wonder what’s up with that — the media will no doubt portray it as church support, which will be inaccurate, but nonetheless it will raise questions, many of which will be illegitimate and some of which will be legitimate.
As an aside, Hugh took issue with my characterization of these “young people” and “experienced missionaries” as “grassroots activists,” “grassroots activists” being my term. Hugh said he did not use that term. This goes back to the lack of candor in Hugh’s book about which I was critical.
Hugh describes these “young people” and “experienced missionaries” as
Romney volunteers [who] will be from the neighborhoods in which the caucuses will be held, will learn the sites where the caucuses will be held and will deliver not just themselves but their non-Mormon friends and neighbors to the caucuses en masse and do so with the full grasp of the rules and a deep experience in patience that comes from knocking on thousands and thousands of doors during their time as missionaries.
Hugh, I hate to tell you my friend, but those are grassroots activists.
Hugh wanted me to give him some bright lines of questions that would and would not be out of line for people, particularly the press, to ask. I think for a mainstream member of the press, like Tim Russert, to ask Romney or a Romney supporter about Romney being a member of a cult would be way out of line. I think if a born and raised in rural Louisiana Southern Baptist had the same concern, it would not be as readily out of line due to the upbringing and exposure, or lack thereof, that the citizen has had with Mormonism.
To sum up my point, which I think Hugh agrees with but for the whole issue of what is and is not acceptable discourse on this issue, we cannot just tell people to “shut up” and “don’t talk about this” issue. When we do that, more and more people will want to talk about it. Instead we should engage and be willing to show that Mitt Romney is a worthy candidate worthy of our vote.
Tench Coxe, one of the members of the Second Continental Congress, wrote “An Examination of the Constitution” in 1787. On the issue of Article VI, Clause 3, the religious test, Coxe wrote:
Any wise, informed, and upright man, be his property what it may, can exercise the trusts and powers of the state, provided he possesses the moral, religious, and political virtues which are necessary to secure the confidence of his fellow citizens.
If someone will not vote for Mitt Romney because of a deeply held religious belief that Mormonism is a cult or heretical to their own religion, I may disagree, but it is their right to do so. If someone will not vote for Mitt Romney because he is religious at all, that should profoundly disturb us all and Hugh and I are on the same team, playing offense, against such people.
This is actually not true. To quote from The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, “the ban extended only to federal officeholders. States were free at the time of the Founding to impose religious tests as they saw fit. All of them did. State tests limited public office to Christians or, in some states, only to Protestants. The national government, on the other hand, could not impose any religious test whatsoever.” Likewise, it is very clear from the constitutional debates that Article VI, Clause 3 was inserted to prevent one Christian denomination from being able to another Christian denomination from federal office. See e.g., statements by Benjamin Rush and Oliver Ellsworth.