The surfacing of the "religion question" in the Republican presidential primary campaigns of both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee has raised important issues and exposed much public confusion about the intersection of religion and politics.
Secularists feign sympathy with Romney for having to address the Mormon question in response to alleged anti-Mormon bigots but condemn him for failing in his speech to expressly include nonbelievers among those whose religious liberty he would safeguard.
This particular attack on Romney by the secularist bigot patrol reveals their own religious bigotry, their ignorance or their disingenuousness. It goes without saying that robust religious liberty includes the freedom to believe in any religion or not to believe at all.
But the secularists' attacks on Huckabee are more serious. They have taken him to task for identifying himself as a "Christian leader" in Iowa, with some saying he was exploiting Romney's Mormonism and also violating the spirit of the constitutional prohibition on requiring religious tests for public office.
In a campaign ad, Huckabee says, "Faith doesn't just influence me. It really defines me," and he identifies himself as a "Christian leader."
It's one thing to read the First Amendment Establishment Clause as prohibiting the slightest government endorsement of the Christian religion (while not demonstrating similar angst over government promotion of secular humanism, New Age-ism, Islam or Native American spirituality). But it's taking it to an entirely new level to say that it precludes public officeholders from allowing their Christian worldview to influence their policy preferences or governance.
Public officials cannot separate their worldview from their governance without gutting themselves into ciphers. Their policy agenda will necessarily reflect their value system. Voters in turn properly base their decisions on candidates in part on their respective values and how closely they resemble their own.
A friend of mine objects that it's wrong for Christians to impose their values through the laws. He cites Justice David Souter's opinion saying the government can't prefer one religion over another.
My friend is merely restating the popular misunderstanding that we cannot legislate morality. All laws are based on morality; the only question is whose morality is being imposed. The pro-abortionist seeks to impose his values by law just as much as the anti-abortionist.