Legal Analysis and Commentary from Justia
Posted In Politics

Assessing Mitt Romney as a 2012 Presidential Candidate: Part Four in an Ongoing Series on the Likely Candidates and Their Views on Religion

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is often charged with flip-flopping on social and political issues.  When it comes to his religion, though, he is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the LDS Church.  In general parlance, that makes him a Mormon.  Romney is not just a member of the church, however, but also a religious leader in it.  When asked about religion, he has typically called it the “faith of my fathers.”

According to a 2007 report by the Associated Press (AP), Romney’s great-grandfather and great-great grandfather were active polygamists, with five and 12 wives, respectively.  His father was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, which is where Mormons engaging in polygamy often landed, at that time in history, in order to avoid the universal rule against polygamy in the United States.

Romney himself apparently is uneasy about polygamy, as are many Mormons.  It is after all a practice that was strongly and defiantly embraced by the forefathers of the faith.  According to the AP, he “has joked about polygamy, saying in various settings that to him, ‘marriage is between a man and a woman . . . and a woman and a woman.’ But in serious moments he has called the practice ‘bizarre’ and noted his church excommunicates those who engage in it.”

Given the human rights abuses against women and children that have occurred within contemporary polygamous communities, as has been confirmed by the prosecutions of the Fundamentalist Mormons in Texas and several others in Utah, it would be nice to hear Romney taking a stronger position against the practice of polygamy.  Instead, he seems to be more in the mold of Senator Orrin Hatch, who currently backs the nomination of federal magistrate David Nuffer to the federal bench, despite the fact that Nuffer represented Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS) members in his prior law practice, and the fact that Nuffer’s nomination is strongly opposed by groups fighting polygamy and its attendant abuses.

The New York Times just published a front-page article on Romney’s religious background this past Sunday, October 16, which emphasized his role as a religious leader.  It is not the most flattering piece, as it cites fellow LDS members describing Romney as “imperious,” cold, and even pompous.

Interestingly, this description—with its revelation of his active role as a minister of the faith—moves Romney closer to the likes of Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, than to businessman Herman Cain.

Romney’s Prior Speech Regarding His Faith and How It Would Affect His Presidency

When he ran for the presidency four years ago, Romney delivered a speech that echoed John F. Kennedy’s response to questions about whether his Roman Catholic faith would dominate his presidential decisionmaking.  Kennedy’s response was direct and memorable.  It put to rest the notion that as a Catholic he would put the needs of the United States second to his church:

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.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

In his own 2007 speech on the topic of religion and governance, Romney seemed to start with these ideas, but then seemed to say that he could not separate himself from the “faith of my fathers.”  He spoke on the topic as follows:

Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin. . . . I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law. . . . 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 for whom these commitments are not enough. They would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts. That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers—I will be true to them and to my beliefs. . . . 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.

Is Romney Truly Committed to Civil Rights, or Not?

Romney did say in June that he favors equal rights for homosexuals in employment, even though his church has been active in working against homosexuals, at least when it comes to marriage.  When asked how he could square those two elements of his life, Romney said in a USA Today article, “I separate quite distinctly matters of personal faith from the leadership one has in a political sense.”

To be honest, I’m not sure what he meant by saying that.  Kennedy, in his time, was far more clear and candid, and it would be good to see that level of clarity and candor from Romney, as well.

According to Romney, his parents were strongly and publicly opposed to the LDS’s beliefs that forbade African-Americans from serving in the church until 1978, when Romney was 31 years old.  Tim Russert interviewed Romney in 2007 for “Meet the Press” and asked him, “[Y]our church was excluding blacks from full participation.  Didn’t you think, ‘What am I doing [as] part of an organization that is viewed by many as a racist organization?’”

Romney answered Russert by pointing to his parents’ activism on this topic and, once again, invoking the faith of his fathers. But there seems to be no record that Romney took up the cause of civil rights in the LDS church himself.  It would be one thing if he had failed to try to change unequal race relations before the 60s, but to have failed to do anything in the 1970s is telling.  It makes him appear to be more of a company man when it comes to religion than an independent leader with a strong moral compass.

Is Romney Pro-Choice, or Pro-Life?  Or Neither?

Romney has been accused of inconsistency on a number of issues, particularly when it comes to abortion.  In Salon this August, Steve Kornacki put it this way: “Some suspect Romney has always been pro-life, and that he only pretended to support abortion rights to get ahead in Massachusetts. Others wonder if he might still secretly be pro-choice, and only pretending to be pro-life to succeed in national GOP politics. But a close examination of his evolution on this issue suggests an even more cynical conclusion: that he doesn’t believe anything at all. During his 17-year political career, Romney has actually changed his tune on abortion multiple times—and always in a way that suited his political needs. . . .”

If Kornacki is correct, Romney’s faith actually may not be a reliable indicator of his future positions as President.  But that shouldn’t give voters comfort; if anything, the contrary.  If Romney is able to game even the abortion issue, where emotions run strong on both sides, he may be able to hide—or shift—his true views on any topic.  In an era, like most, when the United States needs sure-footed leadership, this is a concern.

Does Romney Favor Small Government?

Like his fellow Republican and religious candidates—Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Perry—Romney is in favor of small government until it is inconvenient.

Here’s one example of Romney’s inclination to believe in small government only until believing in big government proves more advantageous:  Peter Suderman has pointed out that “Romney didn’t pair his [Massachusetts] health care overhaul with a large tax hike. He didn’t have to, though, because he relied on generous help from the federal government to pay for it.”

In other words, when he was in a position to solve problems at the state level, he co-opted federal cooperation and financial assistance to make his plans happen.

Moreover, Romney also sided with federal power, and against letting states choose for themselves, when he signed the National Organization for Marriage’s pledge requiring him to support a constitutional amendment that would define marriage, nationwide, as only between a man and a woman.

That position, of course, is the same stance the LDS Church took in California when it was subsidizing lobbying for the state’s Proposition 8, which outlawed homosexual marriage.  Marriage has traditionally and persistently been a matter of state law, which is why a federal constitutional amendment would be needed for the federal government to take action on the issue.  Joining this pledge is a strong indicator of how he would use federal power to fulfill his faith’s ends.

According to CBS, the pledge Romney took goes even farther than mandating a federal takeover of marriage law.  It also would require Romney to create a “presidential commission on ‘religious liberty’ that would investigate harassment or threats against those who have taken positions against same-sex marriage.”  This takes us back to his position on civil rights; this part of the pledge would protect the civil rights of the opponents of gay marriage but does not pledge evenhanded civil rights protection.  It is an interest group’s vision of civil rights, not a proper President’s.

The pledge, CBS reports, “is also notable because Romney was not always such a strong opponent of gay rights. In 1994, he sent a letter to a gay Republican group saying he would be a stronger advocate for gay rights than his Massachusetts Senate opponent, Sen. Ted Kennedy.”

So what does one take away from the intersection between Mitt Romney and religion?  One point is very clear:  He holds dear the “faith of his fathers,” whatever that means.  After that, it gets a little cloudy.

Marci A. HamiltonMarci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty and Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. She also runs two active websites covering her areas of expertise, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, www.RFRAperils.com, and statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, www.sol-reform.com. Professor Hamilton blogs at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. Her email address is hamilton02@aol.com.
Posted In Politics
Print this page

22 Responses to Assessing Mitt Romney as a 2012 Presidential Candidate: Part Four in an Ongoing Series on the Likely Candidates and Their Views on Religion

  1. Atinab46 says:

    Darlin’ all you talked about was his religion!  I don’t care.  I want someone who has the right stuff to turn this country around.  Mormon or not, he has the credentials to do that.  As far as the polygamy thing goes, good grief if his church now excommunicates members who practice it, isn’t that enough?  No active mormon practices polygamy.  It was denounced in the 1800s!  Its a non-issue

  2. Atinab46 says:

    Darlin’ all you talked about was his religion!  I don’t care.  I want someone who has the right stuff to turn this country around.  Mormon or not, he has the credentials to do that.  As far as the polygamy thing goes, good grief if his church now excommunicates members who practice it, isn’t that enough?  No active mormon practices polygamy.  It was denounced in the 1800s!  Its a non-issue

  3. Ted Harvatin says:

    Translation: Obama is awewsome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0VZW0wuH04

    That’s how you people come across to the rest of the world.

  4. Ted Harvatin says:

    Translation: Obama is awewsome: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0VZW0wuH04

    That’s how you people come across to the rest of the world.

  5. Ted Harvatin says:

    Yes we know: Obama is awesome. Here’s how the rest of the world sees you fools: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0VZW0wuH04

  6. Ted Harvatin says:

    Yes we know: Obama is awesome. Here’s how the rest of the world sees you fools: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0VZW0wuH04

  7. I was an 18-year-old convert to the LDS church in 1965, not knowing the racism that existed in that faith.  Once I became aware of it, I wrote a letter frequently to Salt Lake City expressing my disdain for the way blacks were treated.  The letters were always sent back to my bishop who would call me into his office and question my “testimony” and my commitments to the church.  I always told whatever bishop it was that he could disfellowship me or excommunicate me, but my opinion was not going to change.  Of course, my husband was always informed which led to more mental and psychological abuse.  No one in the LDS faith goes against the grain without repercussions.  Mitt Romney believes he is a god in embryo and as such will NEVER go against the grain of the LDS church.  He is not presidential material.  Maybe one day the LDS will make him “prophet.”

  8. I was an 18-year-old convert to the LDS church in 1965, not knowing the racism that existed in that faith.  Once I became aware of it, I wrote a letter frequently to Salt Lake City expressing my disdain for the way blacks were treated.  The letters were always sent back to my bishop who would call me into his office and question my “testimony” and my commitments to the church.  I always told whatever bishop it was that he could disfellowship me or excommunicate me, but my opinion was not going to change.  Of course, my husband was always informed which led to more mental and psychological abuse.  No one in the LDS faith goes against the grain without repercussions.  Mitt Romney believes he is a god in embryo and as such will NEVER go against the grain of the LDS church.  He is not presidential material.  Maybe one day the LDS will make him “prophet.”

  9. Anonymous says:

    Regarding the nomination of David Nuffer to the 5th District
    Court in Utah.  I am the aunt who filed
    to adopt my nephews and nieces, the children of my sister, Brenda Johanson
    Thornton Fischer. You can’t even imagine how appalled and disgusted and
    heartbroken we are to know that my sister’s oldest grandchild (Brenda Lei
    Fischer) was handed over to Warren Jeffs at the age of 12 to be molested in the
    name of religion in his “holy” temple. The blame for this falls
    squarely on the attorneys (Steven Snow and David Nuffer) who took money (~$600,000)
    to condemn my sister’s children to the lifestyle of the FLDS. Blame also lays
    with Utah Social Services who aided and abetted the abuse of many FLDS children
    over the decades. David Nuffer should be deeply and transparently ashamed of
    his part in this debacle, and his support of the FLDS should preclude him from
    ever serving in a public office. Facilitating child abuse and molestation are
    the vilest deeds that mankind perpetuates against others, especially our
    innocent and defenseless children. It is time for the politicians and
    government bodies to take a stand against this long-standing abuse by FLDS
    polygamists  Janet Johanson

  10. Anonymous says:

    Regarding the nomination of David Nuffer to the 5th District
    Court in Utah.  I am the aunt who filed
    to adopt my nephews and nieces, the children of my sister, Brenda Johanson
    Thornton Fischer. You can’t even imagine how appalled and disgusted and
    heartbroken we are to know that my sister’s oldest grandchild (Brenda Lei
    Fischer) was handed over to Warren Jeffs at the age of 12 to be molested in the
    name of religion in his “holy” temple. The blame for this falls
    squarely on the attorneys (Steven Snow and David Nuffer) who took money (~$600,000)
    to condemn my sister’s children to the lifestyle of the FLDS. Blame also lays
    with Utah Social Services who aided and abetted the abuse of many FLDS children
    over the decades. David Nuffer should be deeply and transparently ashamed of
    his part in this debacle, and his support of the FLDS should preclude him from
    ever serving in a public office. Facilitating child abuse and molestation are
    the vilest deeds that mankind perpetuates against others, especially our
    innocent and defenseless children. It is time for the politicians and
    government bodies to take a stand against this long-standing abuse by FLDS
    polygamists  Janet Johanson

  11. Longjohn says:

    So, you don’t like Mitt Romney.  It took you way to long to say that.
    If you truly want to understand his religion, study his religion.  I think that will provide you much more insight that anything you have presented.
    You also need to remember that if you want to understand religion, you need to go to the source not anywhere else.
    Ask a member of the taliban about the jewish religion and you will find a lot to be upset about.
    The facts of this political scene are very clear.  We must remove the sitting president and all those who think as he does, as quickly as possible and move forward to strengthening America on the values and principles the made America what it is today.

  12. Longjohn says:

    So, you don’t like Mitt Romney.  It took you way to long to say that.
    If you truly want to understand his religion, study his religion.  I think that will provide you much more insight that anything you have presented.
    You also need to remember that if you want to understand religion, you need to go to the source not anywhere else.
    Ask a member of the taliban about the jewish religion and you will find a lot to be upset about.
    The facts of this political scene are very clear.  We must remove the sitting president and all those who think as he does, as quickly as possible and move forward to strengthening America on the values and principles the made America what it is today.

  13. Joe Simmons says:

    1. You write that Romney is “uneasy” with polygamy and has called it “bizarre.” But you wish he would make a more full-throated denunciation…because at least some of those who do practice polygamy (against church teachings) are abusive.

    You then oddly connect Romney to Orrin Hatch’s support of a federal magistrate who represented Fundamentalists as a lawyer. I suppose I am to assume that the magistrate supports abuse that occurs in polygamy since he represented a client seeking to protect polygamy? Or that because his nomination is opposed ” by groups fighting polygamy and its attendant abuses” that he truly must be a bad apple. Maybe there are a lot of good reasons to support or oppose Nuffer (maybe even having nothing to do with polygamy!) but even if you made your case, it’s still a far cry from explaining Romney’s position or how it is similar to Hatch’s. It was truly bizarre that you tried to make this link.

    I actually found a quote in which Romney said, “I must admit, I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.”

    As serious an issue as the abuses in polygamy are, it is not a widespread issue deserving much more than has been said by Romney.

    2. You intimate that Romney said something very different from Kennedy, that he “then seemed to say that he
    could not separate himself from the ‘faith of my fathers.’”

    That’s no different from when Kennedy said, albeit more briefly, “… nor do I intend to disavow either my
    views or my church in order to win this election.” In the same speech, Kennedy suggested it was possible that his religious convictions could conflict with the national interest and that he would resign if that were ever the case.

    Setting aside the implication that Kennedy is somehow the gold standard, people do not expect a leader’s religious convictions to evaporate. Whatever sop a candidate might throw out about resigning, do not think Kennedy was actually abandoning his religious beliefs. In that speech, Kennedy said he would follow his “conscience” but then also used the word “conscience” as a label for his religious beliefs.

    3. “Romney did say in June that he favors equal rights for homosexuals in
    employment, even though his church has been active in working against
    homosexuals, at least when it comes to marriage.”

    “Even though”? Employment law and marriage law are very different things.

    As for his apparent lack of leadership on racial discrimination, it is too easy and superficial to inflate this into “It makes him appear to be more of a company man when it comes to
    religion than an independent leader with a strong moral compass.”

    Lawrence O’Donnell tried the same game with Herman Cain recently, trying to pain him as a coward or something for not being involved as an activist against segregation. There are so many reasons and motivations for why people do or do not engage in a more activist way. I don’t know how Romney dealt with these issues on a day-to-day basis in his church, what discussions he had, what was going on in his life during those years.

    4. Romney’s views on abortion are so muddled at this point that I would tend to agree he may not hold much of a conviction. But who knows? And my biggest problem with Romney is not knowing what his convictions are.

    Trying to connect his (lacking) fervency on the issue of abortion to his religious beliefs is tricky business. Thus I think you go too far:

    “If Romney is able to game even the abortion issue, where emotions run
    strong on both sides, he may be able to hide—or shift—his true views on
    any topic. In an era, like most, when the United States needs
    sure-footed leadership, this is a concern.”

    Just because emotions run high on abortion, doesn’t mean Romney’s emotions must as well. Perhaps you’re just saying he’s a really skilled politician. The above statement could as easily be applied to Obama on any number of topics. Replace “abortion” with “gay marriage,” for example.

    5. You come off the rails on the last point, as views on small government are not the same as religious views (the point of the article). I suppose you’re intimating that Romney would support a marriage amendment because his religious views are dominating? (I know that you’re not even persuaded by that and you don’t pretend to be). As you note, Romney hasn’t been a small government guy on any number of issues. Candidates also support these plegdes simply to get votes. I hate  that pandering as much as you but I think we all recognize it for what it is.

  14. Joe Simmons says:

    1. You write that Romney is “uneasy” with polygamy and has called it “bizarre.” But you wish he would make a more full-throated denunciation…because at least some of those who do practice polygamy (against church teachings) are abusive.

    You then oddly connect Romney to Orrin Hatch’s support of a federal magistrate who represented Fundamentalists as a lawyer. I suppose I am to assume that the magistrate supports abuse that occurs in polygamy since he represented a client seeking to protect polygamy? Or that because his nomination is opposed ” by groups fighting polygamy and its attendant abuses” that he truly must be a bad apple. Maybe there are a lot of good reasons to support or oppose Nuffer (maybe even having nothing to do with polygamy!) but even if you made your case, it’s still a far cry from explaining Romney’s position or how it is similar to Hatch’s. It was truly bizarre that you tried to make this link.

    I actually found a quote in which Romney said, “I must admit, I can’t imagine anything more awful than polygamy.”

    As serious an issue as the abuses in polygamy are, it is not a widespread issue deserving much more than has been said by Romney.

    2. You intimate that Romney said something very different from Kennedy, that he “then seemed to say that he
    could not separate himself from the ‘faith of my fathers.’”

    That’s no different from when Kennedy said, albeit more briefly, “… nor do I intend to disavow either my
    views or my church in order to win this election.” In the same speech, Kennedy suggested it was possible that his religious convictions could conflict with the national interest and that he would resign if that were ever the case.

    Setting aside the implication that Kennedy is somehow the gold standard, people do not expect a leader’s religious convictions to evaporate. Whatever sop a candidate might throw out about resigning, do not think Kennedy was actually abandoning his religious beliefs. In that speech, Kennedy said he would follow his “conscience” but then also used the word “conscience” as a label for his religious beliefs.

    3. “Romney did say in June that he favors equal rights for homosexuals in
    employment, even though his church has been active in working against
    homosexuals, at least when it comes to marriage.”

    “Even though”? Employment law and marriage law are very different things.

    As for his apparent lack of leadership on racial discrimination, it is too easy and superficial to inflate this into “It makes him appear to be more of a company man when it comes to
    religion than an independent leader with a strong moral compass.”

    Lawrence O’Donnell tried the same game with Herman Cain recently, trying to pain him as a coward or something for not being involved as an activist against segregation. There are so many reasons and motivations for why people do or do not engage in a more activist way. I don’t know how Romney dealt with these issues on a day-to-day basis in his church, what discussions he had, what was going on in his life during those years.

    4. Romney’s views on abortion are so muddled at this point that I would tend to agree he may not hold much of a conviction. But who knows? And my biggest problem with Romney is not knowing what his convictions are.

    Trying to connect his (lacking) fervency on the issue of abortion to his religious beliefs is tricky business. Thus I think you go too far:

    “If Romney is able to game even the abortion issue, where emotions run
    strong on both sides, he may be able to hide—or shift—his true views on
    any topic. In an era, like most, when the United States needs
    sure-footed leadership, this is a concern.”

    Just because emotions run high on abortion, doesn’t mean Romney’s emotions must as well. Perhaps you’re just saying he’s a really skilled politician. The above statement could as easily be applied to Obama on any number of topics. Replace “abortion” with “gay marriage,” for example.

    5. You come off the rails on the last point, as views on small government are not the same as religious views (the point of the article). I suppose you’re intimating that Romney would support a marriage amendment because his religious views are dominating? (I know that you’re not even persuaded by that and you don’t pretend to be). As you note, Romney hasn’t been a small government guy on any number of issues. Candidates also support these plegdes simply to get votes. I hate  that pandering as much as you but I think we all recognize it for what it is.

  15. Gcridell says:

    This argument contains an amazing amount of falsehood by omission. As just one example, the governor of Massachusetts had no choice but to rely on (“co-opt’”) “federal cooperation and financial assistance” in implementing a state health care plan. All state health care plans that provide medical services to the indigent are required by federal law to operate with federal funding and federal oversight. States can get waivers to vary some particulars, and that is was Massachusetts did (as Arizona and a few other states have done). That a governor complies with requirements of federal law is hardly an indication that supports or agrees with that law as a matter of belief or principle.

  16. Gcridell says:

    This argument contains an amazing amount of falsehood by omission. As just one example, the governor of Massachusetts had no choice but to rely on (“co-opt’”) “federal cooperation and financial assistance” in implementing a state health care plan. All state health care plans that provide medical services to the indigent are required by federal law to operate with federal funding and federal oversight. States can get waivers to vary some particulars, and that is was Massachusetts did (as Arizona and a few other states have done). That a governor complies with requirements of federal law is hardly an indication that supports or agrees with that law as a matter of belief or principle.

  17. FreeandClear says:

    If Romney want to be taken seriously I think it’s important for him to shed the schizophrenic approach to polygamy that is a part of Mormonism. I applaud the fact that the LDS church no longer practices polygamy, but deplore the fact that while it distances itself from the practice on the one hand (we don’t do that) it stops short of condemning it. That is why nothing is done about it in Utah. And I beg to differ, it is an issue – a human rights issue for women and children. The United Nations says that polygamy should be banned  because of the serious  emotional and economic effects it has on women and children. I want a  President who cares enough about those kind of things, to actually come out clearly about it and attempt to do something.

  18. OftenLate says:

    Mister flip flop.

  19. robin says:

    Anyone whose stance is “cloudy” on any issue or whose stance changes  is one who cannot be trusted. 

  20. OftenLate says:

    I am offended by the misuse of the word schizophrenic so often.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

 

Access this column at http://j.st/ZG4t