Now that Mitt Romney is out of the presidential race, it’s the perfect time to discuss what we should have learned from all the chatter about his faith. The questions and answers relating to faith and holding public office are far more important than one candidate.
If you ask almost any American where the Constitution provides for religious liberty, what are you likely to hear? The First Amendment. There, in words many of us know by heart, we read: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
But there’s another important reference to religion in our Constitution. Considering the vitriolic manner in which our modern media culture treats faith in general, though, if you haven’t read the Constitution yourself, you probably don’t even know it’s there.
Article 6, Clause 3 states: “… no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” That phrase, and the troubled intersection of private faith and public office, is the subject of a fascinating new documentary titled “Article VI.”
Independent filmmakers Bryan Hall and Jack Donaldson explore the current debate over the issue and remind us that ignorance on the subject is nothing new. They show how during John F. Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency in 1960, Kennedy had to go to great lengths to assure non-Catholic Americans that he wouldn’t be a tool of the Vatican -- that the Catholic Church wouldn’t be dictating policy decisions if he were elected. Addressing the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, Kennedy said: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate, who happens to be a Catholic.”
Fast forward 48 years, and it seems remarkable that Kennedy’s faith was an issue. With Catholics serving alongside Protestants and the adherents of other faiths (and no faith) for years, the furor almost appears quaint. You would think the “faith” issue was settled once and for all. But as Hall and Donaldson reveal, when they interviewed people across the country from many walks of life, the way people reacted when Romney, a Mormon, was running for president sounded eerily familiar.
Like Kennedy, Romney had to tell voters repeatedly why his faith didn’t disqualify him for the Oval Office. Are we really still asking such questions in America?