There's been some discussion in the liberal political blogosphere over whether or not Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney's Mormonism is going to be an issue among the Religious Right in the GOP presidential primary. My take: Of course it is. The Religious Right is all for fairness and equal-opportunity -- they hate all religions that aren't fundamentalist/evangelical Protestant. Why anyone thinks they would make an exception for Mormons is beyond me. It's not as if Mormons don't have beliefs that clearly differentiate them from other Christian sects.
Yet strangely, this gets downplayed by some people. As long as Romney says all the right stuff when it comes to political issues (read: abortion) they say, the Religious Right will do the pragmatic thing and accept him. Maybe not too enthusiastically, but it's not going to be a major issue.
Well, the following should dispel any remaining doubts as far as that's concerned:
Heck, I view Mormonism with skepticism. The difference between me and the Religious Right on that score is that I don't care what someone's religion is as long as they support separation of church and state and don't try to import their religion into government. Of course, if you're the kind of person who doesn't support separation of church and state and does want to import your religion into the government -- which is true of much of the Religious Right -- then one's religion can't help but matter. It just goes to show that this attitude is fundamentally at odds with religious freedom. If religion and government are to be excessively entangled, then prying questions about a candidate's religious beliefs are going to come up every election, and no one who wants to participate in the political process is going to be able to say "none of your damned business".
The quarterly meeting of the S.C. Republican executive committee Sept. 16 ended on a sour note when one of its more prominent members cornered Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and grilled him about his Mormon faith.
It was not a pretty sight, according to witnesses.
Romney, a possible Republican candidate for president in 2008, was in town to address the state executive committee.
Cyndi Mosteller, chairwoman of the Charleston County Republican Party, one of the largest GOP organizations in the state, came armed with a bunch of material -- and questions -- about the Mormon church.
The incident only underlines what could become an uncomfortable debate over Romney's faith if he runs for the White House. The issue will be on the table in South CarolinaÂs early primary contest, where roughly 35 percent of GOP voters are evangelical Christians, many of whom view Mormonism with skepticism.
To the credit of the SC GOP (and to my disappointment, since it puts a damper on the entertainment value of the whole thing), a number of their members were very unhappy with Ms. Mosteller's behavior and didn't hesitate to say so. But I don't think I'm going out on a limb here by predicting that we'll be seeing a lot more of this. Most of it is going to be internal to the Religious Right itself, and may not filter into our larger political discourse, but it's going to be there.