The value of the religious litmus test

by Beacon Staff • March 28, 2007

and Mitt Romney-the word interview is misleading because it implies some level of journalistic scrutiny rather than the friendly chat that actually

took place-the issue of Romney's Mormonism was raised.,In a mid-March "interview" between Fox News' Sean Hannity and Mitt Romney-the word interview is misleading because it implies some level of journalistic scrutiny rather than the friendly chat that actually

took place-the issue of Romney's Mormonism was raised.

"[The religious issue] does not come up for any other candidate," Hannity spouted. "And it's really troublesome to me, because it seems like [the media] are creating

for you a religious litmus test ... I view this as unfair."

It is interesting that Alan Colmes's

conservative comrade would suggest that no other candidates' religious practices have been called into question, considering

Hannity dedicates so much air time to The Chicago Trinity United Church of Christ, which Barack Obama attends, and its alleged Afrocentrism.

Putting aside for a moment Hannity's hypocrisy, it should be noted that in his scrutiny of candidates' faiths, he is half-right (which is 50 percent more than he usually is): they absolutely must be examined.

In the case of Romney, Obama or any other candidate, it is by no means inappropriate for the media or the public to ask questions about their religion. Nor is it bigoted to not vote for a contender

because of their particular views.

In a much-criticized Slate article,

Jacob Weisberg wrote that it would not be considered intolerant for the public to be put off by a candidate who is a Scientologist or a Biblical literalist, adding, "Such views are disqualifying because they're dogmatic, irrational

and absurd. By holding them, someone indicates a basic failure to think for himself or see the world as it is."

Excuse the expression: Amen.

In a March 6 interview with The New York Times, the head of Obama's church and the Senator's self-described spiritual mentor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, admitted to taking a trip in the 1980s with racist former Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to visit Muammar al-Gaddafi, Libya's repressive ruler.

What does Barack think of his church's political stances? Does the above information give him pause about his close alliance with Wright?

These are completely valid questions that should not be seen as inappropriate because they address his faith.

And what of Romney? As Weisberg

asks in the Slate piece, does the former governor really believe, as followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints do, that an angel buried golden plates somewhere in New York state that contained on them the word of God, in a language only founder Joseph Smith could understand?

It's a simple question and not an unreasonable one. Do we really want nuclear secrets handed to someone who believes this?

Those seeking the highest office cannot have it both ways on faith. They can't run on their religion in an attempt to attract religious voters, which both parties do, but then claim the issue is off-limits when it is actually questioned.

The beliefs of candidates and their constituencies are a huge factor when it comes to a number of hot-button issues, including gay rights, stem-cell research, abortion and even global warming.

It is an insult to voters to claim that the faith of our elected officials is private or that casting a vote based on it is bigoted.

John F. Kennedy was this country's

first Catholic president, at a time when national anti-Catholic sentiment was much stronger than it is today.

In his campaign, he was forced to confront the religious question head on, famously declaring, "I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me."

Although Kennedy also became defensive when his Catholicism was made an issue, this was ultimately the concise and clear answer the American people deserved.

Many of Romney and Obama's defenders today point to Kennedy as an example of a man who faced unfair questions based on ignorance

and intolerance and overcame

them, but they are missing the point.

Voters were right then to demand an answer on how much influence the Vatican would have over JFK, just as they are right to ask similar questions of our candidates today.

Kennedy overcame it because he had the right answer: no influence.

Some today also have the gall to point to the United States Constitution, which prohibits a "religious test" for public office, to suggest that religion should be no factor in voters' minds. That clause obviously exists to ensure no person of a particular faith can be denied power outright. It does not imply that the beliefs and logic of our leaders are off-limits for discussion.

So let's stop talking about "the religious litmus test" for candidates

as though it were a bad thing.

Our country will probably never see the day when religious dogma in general is seen as a detriment for our elected officials, but we should see it as a step forward

when we can shine a light on those beliefs that are particularly

offensive and absurd.