Mark Davis bravely asks something I've been wrestling with regarding the oft-mentioned question of Mitt Romney's religion: "...are objecting voters revealing religious bigotry or a natural predilection for candidates more spiritually similar?... Are they religious bigots who should be scolded for intolerance, or is their requirement for a candidate who shares their faith no different from criteria on other matters?"
In recent weeks I have often heard pundits, including Hugh Hewitt and Sean Hannity, scold those who would consider Romney's religious views, let alone consider them to be a negative factor. We are told voters should not consider a candidate's "deeply held personal religious views," just their competency to serve. We are reminded that there is no "religious test" to hold office, and of course there is no such actual test under the Constitution. But is it completely illegitimate for a voter to consider a candidate's religion as a factor in deciding who would best represent the voter's views?
Along similar lines, in coming months voters likely will be pondering whether or not Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich's three marriages apiece say anything important about their character and their competency to serve in office. We may consider whether or not they have lived up to the religious or moral values we would like to see in the leader of our nation, or whether those are personal issues which will have little impact on their ability to carry out their role as President. We may be considering John McCain's legendary temper -- or his being twice married, for that matter. We may be considering which politicians' changes in political views are an authentic "evolution" or positions taken for political expediency, in which case that may impact how we assess their character. We may consider whether a candidate agrees with our position on when life begins, which in some ways is inextricably bound with religious views.
To go on to a hypothetical issue, I think it would be reasonable to ask, for example, whether a Muslim candidate's religious views, in Davis's words, "harbors the possibility of guiding his or her actions in a way I would disapprove of." Not to consider that issue in this particular day and age would be, I think, irresponsible and unrealistic.
Is it thus also fair for a voter to consider whether he believes a candidate shows wisdom in his choice of religion, and what the choice does or doesn't say about the candidate?
I've been moving to the conclusion that this isn't bigotry, but a reasonable issue to consider -- along with similar factors as mentioned above -- as one assesses a candidate.
This is a very difficult topic to broach, as in some quarters one is automatically labeled a bigot for even raising the issue for consideration. But it's something that voters are going to have to grapple with over the next year and a half, and the time to think about it is now.