Mitt Romney’s “Faith in America” speech was simply magnificent, and anyone who denies it is not to be trusted as an analyst. On every level it was a masterpiece. The staging and Romney’s delivery, the eclipse of all other candidates it caused, the domination of the news cycle just prior to the start of absentee voting in New Hampshire on Monday –for all these reasons and more it will be long discussed as a masterpiece of political maneuver.
Far more important than all of that, however, was the content of the address, which was a brilliant explication of the American political theory of faith and freedom. Romney used the moment to defend not just himself but the American tradition of faith in the public square, of vigorous and valued religious plurality, and, crucially, why that tradition has allowed America’s role in the world to be so unqualifiedly good. The unexpected but brilliant connection of our tradition of religious liberty with our ability to move in the world to save it again and again from evil and to rebuild it without demands for territory or treasure lifted the speech very far above the ordinary campaign speech, and in so doing lifted the Romney candidacy. Americans watching the speech were listening to a great communicator talk with pride and obvious skill and passion about America and its long history of freedom. This is a much loved and too infrequent thing: An American leader talking with unashamed love and reverence for the country and its shining tradition of tolerance and fierce attachment to liberty.
Did Romany convert anti-Mormon fanatics or secular absolutists? Of course not, but they are very few, though the latter are extremely overrepresented in elite media newsrooms, as I argued on CNN International just after the speech, when the anchors immediately wanted to turn to whether the LDS segregation of priesthood until 1978 would hurt Romney.
But the speech will shame many of them into if not silence, at least a more guarded displat of hostility to faith, while reminding millions of people of faith about the glories of religious tolerance. Rescuing the campaign of 2008 from the theological inquisition it had sometimes become will be one of the legacies of the speech, as all candidates and many commentators will now simply be able to say: “I agree with Romney and reject the imposition of theological litmus tests on presidential candidates.”
Rarely does American politics have such clear, positive breakthroughs –though political history is littered with the remains of many campaigns that blew up in a single day. But this was one such day. Romney’s GOP opponents are shaking their heads, and at Team Clinton, they are very worried indeed, imagining a closing night acceptance speech in Minnesota that does again what Romney did today: Appeal to our better angels and our common history to urge America to persevere in difficult times, true to the ideals which launched it, and which allowed it to survive civil war and foreign attack.
They are worried about the return of a Reagan-like communicator to the GOP ticket, and they are right to be alarmed.
UPDATE: Here is the text of the speech for your convenience:
“Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind introduction.
“It is an honor to be here today. This is an inspiring place because of
you and the First Lady and because of the film exhibited across the way
in the Presidential library. For those who have not seen it, it shows
the President as a young pilot, shot down during the Second World War,
being rescued from his life-raft by the crew of an American submarine.
It is a moving reminder that when America has faced challenge and peril,
Americans rise to the occasion, willing to risk their very lives to
defend freedom and preserve our nation. We are in your debt. Thank
you, Mr. President.
“Mr. President, your generation rose to the occasion, first to defeat
Fascism and then to vanquish the Soviet Union. You left us, your
children, a free and strong America. It is why we call yours the
greatest generation. It is now my generation’s turn. How we respond to
today’s challenges will define our generation. And it will determine
what kind of America we will leave our children, and theirs.
“America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam
seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our
economic leadership. And we are troubled at home by government
overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.
“Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best
to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which
I believe is fundamental to America’s greatness: our religious liberty.
I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my
Presidency, if I were elected.
“There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be
seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us.
If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our
nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator.
And further, they discovered the essential connection between the
survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In
John Adams’ words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of
contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion… Our
constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'[# More #]
“Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom
opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound
beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or
“Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some
wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate’s
religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer
“Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that
he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for
president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not
define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected
because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.
“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.
“As governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law
and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular
teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the
Constitution – and of course, I would not do so as President. I will
put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and
the sovereign authority of the law.
“As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America’s ‘political
religion’ – the commitment to defend the rule of law and the
Constitution. 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.
“Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy.
If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American
people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience.
Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain
“There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What
do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son
of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may
not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own
unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but
rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow
principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we
“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. No
candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes
President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.
“I believe that every faith I have encountered draws its adherents
closer to God. And in every faith I have come to know, there are
features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the
Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the
Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the
confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the
Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer
of the Muslims. As I travel across the country and see our towns and
cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their
steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life’s
“It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist
between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral
convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s
usually a sound rule to focus on the latter – on the great moral
principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the
cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no
movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the
convictions of religious people.
“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good
reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state
interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the
notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well
beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain
any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair
with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on
establishing a new religion in America – the religion of secularism.
They are wrong.
“The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they
did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square.
We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.
“We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders – in ceremony and
word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching
of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and
menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would
not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon
which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs
of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the
God who gave us liberty.’
“Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most
important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political
office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of
human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast
commitment to liberty?
“They are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great
moral inheritance we hold in common. They are the firm ground on which
Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.
“We believe that every single human being is a child of God – we are all
part of the human family. The conviction of the inherent and
inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary
political proposition ever advanced. John Adams put it that we are
‘thrown into the world all equal and alike.’
“The consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one
another, to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of
God. It is an obligation which is fulfilled by Americans every day,
here and across the globe, without regard to creed or race or
“Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence
of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as
much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America’s sons
and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve
freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world.
America took nothing from that Century’s terrible wars – no land from
Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty. America’s
resolve in the defense of liberty has been tested time and again. It
has not been found wanting, nor must it ever be. America must never
falter in holding high the banner of freedom.
“These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived
in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God
and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I
saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to
people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national
volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord’s words: ‘For I was an
hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I
was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me…’
“My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and
my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we
have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are
the self-same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common
foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency.
“Today’s generations of Americans have always known religious liberty.
Perhaps we forget the long and arduous path our nation’s forbearers took
to achieve it. They came here from England to seek freedom of religion.
But upon finding it for themselves, they at first denied it to others.
Because of their diverse beliefs, Ann Hutchinson was exiled from
Massachusetts Bay, a banished Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, and
two centuries later, Brigham Young set out for the West. Americans were
unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an
appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths. In
this, they were very much like those of the European nations they had
“It was in Philadelphia that our founding fathers defined a
revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self evident truths about
the equality of all, and the inalienable rights with which each is
endowed by his Creator.
“We cherish these sacred rights, and secure them in our Constitutional
order. Foremost do we protect religious liberty, not as a matter of
policy but as a matter of right. There will be no established church,
and we are guaranteed the free exercise of our religion.
“I’m not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our
tradition of religious liberty. I have visited many of the magnificent
cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired … so grand … so empty.
Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now
stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too
‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment
of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe’s churches. And
though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches
themselves seem to be withering away.
“Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by
conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom… killing Christians,
Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do
their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds
and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than
theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups
could inflict if given the chance.
“The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our
religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized
nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be
“In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where
reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty,
joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain
of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in
prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for
hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single
strain of religion – rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.
“Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in
Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British
troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an
impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray.
But there were objections. ‘They were too divided in religious
sentiments’, what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and
Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.
“Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of
piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.
“And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by
the grace of God … they founded this great nation.
“In that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine ‘author of liberty.’
And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed, ‘with
freedom’s holy light.’
“God bless the United States of America.”