Commentaries, Global Warming, Opinions   Cover   •   Commentary   •   Books & Reviews   •   Climate Change   •   Site Links   •   Feedback
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
WEBCommentary Contributor
Author:  Michael J. Gaynor
Bio: Michael J. Gaynor
Date:  March 27, 2007
Print article - Printer friendly version

Email article link to friend(s) - Email a link to this article to friends

Facebook - Facebook

Topic category:  Other/General

Solving his "Mormon Problem": Do It The Founders’ Way, Mr. Romney

Republican presidential aspirant and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on America's success: "What is it about America's culture and values that makes such a successful nation and society? Part of that is we love liberty, we love our country, we're patriotic. I believe it's also because we are a people who love God and look for a purpose greater than ourselves."

Secular extremists (aka fanatical secularists) hate that kind of talk and hope people of different faiths will reject Mr. Romney because he is a Mormon.

Their real problem is not with Mormonism, but with Mr. Romney's traditional American values.

Mr. Romney on American values: "American values are at the heart of America's historic rise to world leadership. These include, among others, respect for hard work, sacrifice, civility, love of family, respect for life, education and love of freedom."

To be sure, there are those who disdain hard work, abhor sacrifice, embrace hedonism, mock civility, reject the traditional family, disrespect life, and advocate licentiousness instead of legitimate freedom.

They don't support Mr. Romney, of course.

They worry that enough Americans will make him the next President of the United States , focus on the religious differences of the religious and hope that enough Americans will have a problem with the thought of a Mormon becoming the President of the United States to keep him out of the White House.

It is a cunning strategy: focus the folks who DO believe in God on their differences and then promote extreme secularism as the solution.

Of course, America was founded by religious people with differences of opinion but a belief in God, not atheists and agnostics.

Since Mr. Romney aspires to become President and is a Mormon, he needs to deal with attempts to discredit him by disparaging his faith by telling his fellow Americans nicely that, when it comes to electing him President, as President Franklin Delano Roosevelt might have put it, “They have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

Mr. Romney might allay the encouraged suspicion of some Christians with a friendly reminder of The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), in which Jesus instructed a presumptuous lawyer to follow the good example of a Samaritan.

St. Luke wrote:

"Behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested him, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?'

"He said to him, 'What is written in the law? How do you read it?'

"He answered, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.'

"He said to him, 'You have answered correctly. Do this, and you will live.'

"But he, desiring to justify himself, asked Jesus, 'Who is my neighbor?'

"Jesus answered, 'A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the host, and said to him, "Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return." Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?"

"He said, 'He who showed mercy on him.'

"Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise.'"

Christians know that's advice they need to do take, and so they will give Mr. Romney a fair shake (which is all he needs).

What Mr. Romney needs to do is (1) to reveal to his fellow Americans that he is a man of genuine faith and principle,(2) to remind them that America was founded as a God-acknowledging, religious freedom-friendly, secularly moderate nation and (3) to call for a rejection of the hijacking of America by secular extremists and a return to those reliable roots before "under God" is stricken from "The Pledge of Allegiance," "Laus Deo" is sandblasted from the top of the Washington Monument and "God or No God: Who Cares?" is substituted as the national motto for "In God We Trust" on the national currency and coin.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the first (and only) baptized Roman Catholic to become President, won the 1960 presidential election, barely, with a politically brilliant, but religiously ridiculous, strategy: challenging Protestants to be fair to him, satisfying the secular extremists by pledging absolute separation of church and state, condemning bloc voting and garnering 78% of the Catholic vote.

President Kennedy in his memorable “Houston speech”: “I do not speak for my church on public matters and my church does not speak for me. I believe in an America...where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind.”

That sounded very reassuring to non-Catholics, but it begged the key questions: (1) what values should influence public policy and (2) will the oath of office prescribed in the Constitution be honored.

These days polls show that more people are disposed to vote for a presidential candidate because that candidate is black, or a female, than are disposed NOT to vote for that candidate.

That’s better than the reverse, but the race or sex of a presidential candidate should not be a political plus or a minus, ideally.

When it comes to a Mormon, however, polls show than many more people are disposed to vote against than to vote for.

That’s bad, for everyone, not just Mitt Romney, his one and only wife and their children.

What should matter are a candidate’s character, abilities and actual values, not his or her race, or sex or professed religion.

When the Constitution was written, it specified (in Article VI) that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Obviously, that included the office of President.

Joseph Story, an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, in his famous Commentaries on the Constitution (1833), explained in Section 1879 that the plan was that “the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvanist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils without any inquisition into their faith or mode of worship.”

To those who would subject Mr. Romney to an inquisition into his faith or mode of worship, I suggest inquiry into the Constitution and the amendments to it, particularly the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments), and most particularly the First Amendment.

The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Notice that religion came first in the First Amendment?

That was because the Founders were a religious people who gave priority to religion, not atheists, agnostics or Satanists who wanted to ban religion and religious values from the public square and public policy in favor of hedonism.

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were drafted and ratified in the eighteenth century.

The First Amendment has not been amended.

So when it comes to interpreting the First Amendment’s religious clauses, it is much better to turn to Chief Justice John Marshall and Justice Story than to, say, former ACLU counsel and now Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The Constitution was a God-friendly, not godless document.

It was dated “in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven”.

“[O]ur Lord” referred to Jesus.

Justice Story explained in his treatise that the First Amendment’s no establishment clause prohibited Congress from giving preference to any particular denomination of the Christian faith, but that it was NOT intended to withdraw the Christian religion as a whole from Congressional protection.

Justice Story (Section 1874): “probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the amendment to it now under consideration [the First Amendment], the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.”

Chief Justice Marshall (1833): “[W]ith with us Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations to it.”

In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), however, what had been “strange indeed” became law, as Congressional protection was withdrawn from both the Christian religion and religion as a whole and agnosticism or “utter indifference” was imposed by the United States Supreme Court under the guise of judicial interpretation.

Everson: “The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa.”

To the extent that the Court declared that government cannot “aid all religions,” the Court was ignoring history and its prior decision and imposing its own will.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in a footnote to his dissent in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky (2005), not only lamented the insidious effect of Everson, but lambasted it as specious:

"The fountainhead of this jurisprudence, Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, based its dictum that '[n]either a state nor the Federal Government . . . can pass laws which . . . aid all religions,' 330 U.S., at 15, on a review of historical evidence that focused on the debate leading up to the passage of the Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty, see id., at 11–13. A prominent commentator of the time remarked (after a thorough review of the evidence himself) that it appeared the Court had been 'sold . . . a bill of goods.' Corwin, The Supreme Court as National School Board, 14 Law & Contemp. Prob. 3, 16 (1949)."

Thomas Cooley, in Principles of Constitutional Law 224-25 (3d ed. 1898) had explained: “By establishment of religion is meant the setting up or recognition of a state church, or at least the conferring on one church of special favors and advantages which are denied to others….It was never intended by the Constitution that the government should be prohibited from recognizing religion, * * * where it might be done without drawing any invidious distinctions between different religious beliefs, organization, or sects.”

In Holy Trinity Church v. United States, 143 U.S. 457 (1892), the United States Supreme Court had matter of factly delightedly described America as "a Christian nation":

"If we pass beyond these matters to a view of American life, as expressed by its laws, its business, its customs, and its society, we find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth. Among other matters note the following: The form of oath universally prevailing, concluding with an appeal to the Almighty; the custom of opening sessions of all deliberative bodies and most conventions with prayer; the prefatory words of all wills, ‘In the name of God, amen’; the laws respecting the observance of the Sabbath, with the general cessation of all secular business, and the closing of courts, legislatures, and other similar public assemblies on that day; the churches and church organizations which abound in every city, town, and hamlet; the multitude of charitable organizations existing everywhere under Christian auspices; the gigantic missionary associations, with general support, and aiming to establish Christian missions in every quarter of the globe. These and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation."

The decision did not draw a single dissent, and the so-called tension between the two religious clauses of the First Amendment was dismissed as contrived.

As Chief Justice William Rehnquist explained in dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), his review of the historical record showed “that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment had acquired a well-accepted meaning: it forbade establishment of a national religion, and forbade preference among religious sects or denominations. Indeed, the first American dictionary defined the word ‘establishment’ as ‘the act of establishing, founding, ratifying or ordaining,’ such as in ‘[t]he episcopal form of religion, so called, in England.’ 1 N. Webster, American Dictionary of the English Language (1st ed. 1828). The Establishment Clause did not require government neutrality between religion and irreligion, nor did it prohibit the Federal Government from providing nondiscriminatory aid to religion. There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the Framers intended to build the ‘wall of separation’ that was constitutionalized in Everson.”

To those who call for Governor Romney to emulate President Kennedy and embrace an absolute separation of church and state, I say: reject secular extremism instead and reiterate what the Founders said.

I agree with Bruce Wilson (“Why Romney should openly discuss his religion,” March 22, 2007), a Utah-based columnist and author of "Disarming the Culture War," that “one line of reasoning advanced by JFK seems so absurd…that I'm surprised he got away with it.”

Mr. Wilson:

“Consider what Mr. Kennedy had to say about his personal views on religion and church affiliation: ‘So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again - not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me. ... I believe in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair.’”

Since then, it has become known that JFK was involved in many private affairs that violated a Commandment as well as basic Catholic teaching and even an annulled marriage that did not become public knowledge until long after his death.

Mr. Wilson is right, not JFK:

“Common sense alone should lead us to conclude that exactly the opposite is necessary. If a candidate truly believes in a church, its principles are likely to be the most fundamental building blocks of that person's character. And personal character is always one of the key attributes voters should consider when electing a president. Thus, it seems obvious that voters should try to ascertain both the depth of a candidate's faith and the primary principles of that faith.

"Times have changed, and in more recent presidential campaigns, the press has done a pretty good job of providing insight into each candidate's depth of faith. Imposters who are not active in their faith or whose actions are not in harmony with the faith they profess are usually exposed over the course of a campaign.”

As they should be!

Mr. Wilson appreciates that ignorance and misinformation are his real problems, not his Mormonism: “Mr. Romney's faith is more susceptible than most to this problem because only 2 percent of Americans are Mormon. To put that in perspective, about 25 percent of Americans are Catholic and 50 percent are Protestant. So unless you are Mormon, or you've invited the door-knocking Mormon missionaries into your home for a chat, it's not very likely that you know much about the principal beliefs of the Latter-day Saints.”

Mr. Wilson’s solution: “Mr. Romney should guard against misinformation defining his faith by speaking openly about it when asked. As someone who was once Protestant and is now Mormon, I'm confident that most Americans would find the primary principles of Mr. Romney's faith compatible with their own.”

Good thinking! Challenging the American people to be fair worked well for JFK, and it will work well for Mr. Romney.

When Republicans focus on the fact that Mr. Romney is the only one of the top candidates who has honored his marriage vows (Messrs. Giuliani and Gingrich married thrice and divorced twice, while Senator McCain divorced and remarried), aspects of Mormonism that might seem unusual will not be a big deal: Mr. Romney is asking for people to vote for him, a man whose personal life is a sterling credential, not asking them to become Mormons themselves.

The notion that the Pope would rule America is a Catholic was elected president was a malicious myth.

So too the notion that the elders of the Mormon Church will rule if Mr. Romney is elected.

America should expect that any candidate’s religious values will affect their political positions. If they don’t, what does? If they don’t have any principles, the voters should know it. If they do, the voters should know what they are.

All Mr. Romney needs to do is tell people about his values and principles and assure them that he will be as faithful to his oath of office as he has been to his marital vows and his Mormon faith will not be an albatross for him.

Since he lacks the current advantages of being female or black, much less female and black (Oprah endorsed Senator Obama instead of running herself), Americans holding Mr. Romney’s religion against him would be piling on.

On September 12, 1960, then Democrat presidential candidate Kennedy delivered the following statement before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association:

“I am grateful for your generous invitation to state my views.

“While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only ninety miles off the coast of Florida -- the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power -- the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor's bills, the families forced to give up their farms -- an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

“These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues -- for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.

“But because I am a Catholic and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured -- perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again -- not what kind of church I believe in for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in.

“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 a 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.

“For, while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew -- or a Quaker -- or a Unitarian -- or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that led to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today, I may be the victim -- but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.

“Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end -- where all men and all churches are treated as equal -- where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice -- where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind -- and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, both the lay and the pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

“That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of Presidency in which I believe -- a great office that must be neither humbled by making it the instrument of any religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding it, its occupancy from the members of any religious group. I believe in a President whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

“I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty (nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so). And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test -- even by indirection -- for if they disagree with that safeguard, they should be openly working to repeal it.

“I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all and obligated to none -- who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require him to fulfill -- and whose fulfillment of his Presidential office is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

“This is the kind of America I believe in -- and this is the kind of America I fought for in the South Pacific and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we might have a ‘divided loyalty,’ that we did ‘not believe in liberty’ or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened ‘the freedoms for which our forefathers died.’

“And in fact this is the kind of America for which our forefathers did die when they fled here to escape religious test oaths, that denied office to members of less favored churches, when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom -- and when they fought at the shrine I visited today -- the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died Fuentes and McCafferty and Bailey and Bedillio and Carey -- but no one knows whether they were Catholics or not. For there was no religious test there.

“I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of fourteen years in the Congress -- on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I attended myself) -- and instead of doing this do not judge me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we have all seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic Church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and rarely relevant to any situation here -- and always omitting of course, that statement of the American bishops in 1948 which strongly endorsed church-state separation.

“I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts -- why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit or prosecute the free exercise of any other religion. And that goes for any persecution at any time, by anyone, in any country.

“And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would also cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as France and Ireland -- and the independence of such statesmen as de Gaulle and Adenauer.

“But let me stress again that these are my views -- for, contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for President [but the candidate] who happens also to be a Catholic.

“I do not speak for my church on public matters -- and the church does not speak for me.

“Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected -- on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling, or any other subject -- I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictate. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

“But if the time should ever come -- and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible -- when my office would require me to either violate my conscience, or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office, and I hope any other conscientious public servant would do likewise.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election. If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate satisfied that I tried my best and was fairly judged.

“But if this election is decided on the basis that 40,000,000 Americans lost their chance of being President on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

“But if, on the other hand, I should win this election, I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the Presidency -- practically identical, I might add with the oath I have taken for fourteen years in the Congress. For, without reservation, I can, and I quote ‘solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States and will preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution so help me God.’”

Like the Everson decision, much of what is stated in the “Houston speech” is true, but it is fundamentally flawed.

Give President Kennedy the benefit of the doubt: he did not appreciate Catholic theology or have the benefit of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Doctrinal Note on Some Questions Regarding the Participation of Catholics in Political Life. Issued in November of 2002.

The Doctrinal Note reminds Catholics involved in public life “that a well-formed Christian conscience does not permit one to vote for a political program or an individual law which contradicts the fundamental contents of faith and morals.”

Since respect for the inviolable dignity of the human person gives rise to a fundamental moral duty to defend the basic right to life from conception to natural death, the Doctrinal Note unambiguously states that “those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a ‘grave and clear obligation to oppose’ any law that attacks human life. For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

Law and politics cannot be separated from morality, as President Kennedy hoped and found politically helpful.

The Catholic Church views democracy as the best expression of the direct participation of citizens in political choices and democracy’s success as dependent upon a correct understanding of the human person. Catholic involvement in political life cannot compromise on this principle.

As stated in the Doctrinal Note:

“When political activity comes up against moral principles that do not admit of exception, compromise or derogation, the Catholic commitment becomes more evident and laden with responsibility. In the face of fundamental and inalienable ethical demands, Christians must recognize that what is at stake is the essence of the moral law, which concerns the integral good of the human person.

“The social doctrine of the Church is not an intrusion into the government of individual countries. It is a question of the lay Catholic’s duty to be morally coherent, found within one’s conscience, which is one and indivisible. ‘There cannot be two parallel lives in their existence: on the one hand, the so-called “spiritual life”, with its values and demands; and on the other, the so-called “secular” life, that is, life in a family, at work, in social responsibilities, in the responsibilities of public life and in culture. The branch, engrafted to the vine which is Christ, bears its fruit in every sphere of existence and activity.’”

America’s Founders were secular moderates, not secular extremists. They would understand. America’s Declaration of Independence not only acknowledged God, but God-given and unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. America is, as stated in The Pledge of Allegiance, “one Nation, under God,” not a political entity utterly indifferent to God and religion.

To the extent that President Kennedy advocated “two parallel lives,” he abandoned his Catholic faith.

Mr. Romney needs to assure Americans that he is a person of faith and principle, not a political opportunist who will say or do just about anything to win an election.

If he does that, his personal decision to remain a Mormon will pass the American public’s inspection.

If he doesn’t, it won’t matter which religion he claims as his.

Collin Carroll Campbell, fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, former speechwriter to President George W. Bush, and author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola Press, 2002),in “The Enduring Costs of John F. Kennedy’s Compromise: America’s first Catholic president popularized the separation of faith from politics – and the problem isn’t going away, “ published in the February 2007 issue of Catholic World Report, addressed the “fundamental question confronting dozens of pluralistic democracies today: Should religious convictions and religiously-based moral principles be confined to the private realm, or should they inform our public policy debates?”

Mr. Romney needs to address that question.

Hint: If those convictions and principles are NOT important enough to “inform our public policy debates,” what is?

Ms. Campbell:

“[T]he cultural and political victory that Kennedy had won for Catholics came at a steep price: The creation of what Fr. Richard John Neuhaus has called ‘the naked public square.’ It is a sanitized space where political arguments are unwelcome if they spring from religious conviction, appeals to once self-evident truths are neither embraced nor challenged but reflexively dismissed as mere opinion, and debates about life’s most fundamental questions are ruled out of bounds before they can begin. In the naked public square, the division between faith and reason, God and man, private truth and the public ethic is absolute and impermeable.”

Mr. Romney needs to call for the rectification of that situation.

Because, as Ms. Campbell put it, “the privatization of religion ultimately fails as a response to religious pluralism because of the moral relativism at its core, which denigrates reason as well as faith, and acknowledges no universal truths. The privatization of religion does not simply prevent religious conflicts in the public square; it prevents the most fundamental form of deliberation necessary to the functioning of a democracy: honest debates about right and wrong, good and evil, truth and falsehood.”

If a Mormon teaches America that, it’s fine with me.

Ms. Campbell has provided a syllabus:

“These debates need not be explicitly sectarian, but they are always essentially religious, because they are about questions of ultimate meaning. What else, after all, is at the core of our disputes about embryonic stem-cell research, physician-assisted suicide, and same-sex marriage? Such disagreements arise from competing ideas about the value of human life, the meaning of human sexuality, and whether and how we can know moral truth. Even those who claim no religious affiliation or belief in any moral absolutes belie their own self-proclaimed neutrality when they insist on the rightness of their position and on the adoption of laws that reflect their own laissez-faire or morally relativistic views.

“No one comes to the public square without an agenda, a set of values, and a worldview. To deprive some Americans of their right to make political arguments from religious conviction or to insist on a separation of church and state so absolute that it expunges all traces of theism and religious influence from the public square does not create a neutral zone for civil discourse. It creates an unconstitutional obstacle to civic participation for the vast majority of Americans whose worldview is religiously informed. And it hands strident secularists a de facto victory before the debate ever begins, since religious Americans are told that they must argue from secular assumptions if they want to be heard at all.

“This situation leads to something far worse than unfair debates or vapid political discourse. It promotes what Pope Benedict the Sixteenth has called a ‘dictatorship of relativism’ where all of life, not merely public life, is dominated by the a priori rejection of religious belief and any claim to moral truth. As Neuhaus notes in his book, The Naked Public Square (Eerdmans, 1984), the banishment of religious belief and religious actors from the public square creates a power vacuum to be filled by a totalitarian state. The most potent check on state power is religion, after all: Religious institutions and believers assert absolute values that challenge the supremacy of the state and defend human rights that cannot be legitimately revoked by man-made laws or majority vote. When religious actors are removed from the public square, the state assumes the power to define absolute values. In the case of a thoroughly secularized society, the state may simply say that all values are relative — a claim that, in itself, becomes absolute by virtue of the state’s authority. So the religion of relativism, in which any opinion is allowed except one that is believed to be universally true, becomes the established religion imposed at the price of our freedom, our rights, and our democracy.”

Michael J. Gaynor

Send email feedback to Michael J. Gaynor

Biography - Michael J. Gaynor

Michael J. Gaynor has been practicing law in New York since 1973. A former partner at Fulton, Duncombe & Rowe and Gaynor & Bass, he is a solo practitioner admitted to practice in New York state and federal courts and an Association of the Bar of the City of New York member.

Gaynor graduated magna cum laude, with Honors in Social Science, from Hofstra University's New College, and received his J.D. degree from St. John's Law School, where he won the American Jurisprudence Award in Evidence and served as an editor of the Law Review and the St. Thomas More Institute for Legal Research. He wrote on the Pentagon Papers case for the Review and obscenity law for The Catholic Lawyer and edited the Law Review's commentary on significant developments in New York law.

The day after graduating, Gaynor joined the Fulton firm, where he focused on litigation and corporate law. In 1997 Gaynor and Emily Bass formed Gaynor & Bass and then conducted a general legal practice, emphasizing litigation, and represented corporations, individuals and a New York City labor union. Notably, Gaynor & Bass prevailed in the Second Circuit in a seminal copyright infringement case, Tasini v. New York Times, against newspaper and magazine publishers and Lexis-Nexis. The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, 7 to 2, holding that the copyrights of freelance writers had been infringed when their work was put online without permission or compensation.

Gaynor currently contributes regularly to,,, and and has contributed to many other websites. He has written extensively on political and religious issues, notably the Terry Schiavo case, the Duke "no rape" case, ACORN and canon law, and appeared as a guest on television and radio. He was acknowledged in Until Proven Innocent, by Stuart Taylor and KC Johnson, and Culture of Corruption, by Michelle Malkin. He appeared on "Your World With Cavuto" to promote an eBay boycott that he initiated and "The World Over With Raymond Arroyo" (EWTN) to discuss the legal implications of the Schiavo case. On October 22, 2008, Gaynor was the first to report that The New York Times had killed an Obama/ACORN expose on which a Times reporter had been working with ACORN whistleblower Anita MonCrief.

Gaynor's email address is

Read other commentaries by Michael J. Gaynor.

Copyright © 2007 by Michael J. Gaynor
All Rights Reserved.

[ Back ]

© 2004-2024 by WEBCommentary(tm), All Rights Reserved