Romney’s campaign has released some excerpts of the speech he will be giving in about an hour. It says pretty much what many thought he would say (it is much more Millman than Fox), which is simply a more elaborate version of his standard rhetoric. He has said that he is not a spokesman for his religion before, and he is going to tell us that again. Here is a reason why this stance is particularly unsatisfying. As far as the balancing act goes, the speech is better than I expected. The reference to religious tests will probably not go down well, since the religious tests to which the Constitution refers were tests imposed through law to screen for dissenters from a formally established, official doctrine. You cannot have a religious test without a legally established church or religion to serve as the standard for that test. It is one thing to say that he thinks it is not a relevant or appropriate topic for political discussion. For what it’s worth, Ron Paul takes that view. However, whether it is relevant or not, there is no question of a religious test here. To call this a religious test or a prelude to a religious test is to conflate a formal and legal impediment to office with the attitudes and beliefs of citizens. It would mean that trying to elect someone you believe best represents you is a kind of persecution of the candidates you do not select, which seems like a very strange way to view things.
There is also one line (“diversity of our cultural expression”), which is effectively a nod to the “diversity is our strength” idea (an article of faith more irrational than anything taught by even the most far-out religions), that will have conservatives of various stripes smacking their foreheads.
James Poniewozik asks the right question:
Speaking of which, why, exactly, does it constitute “bigotry” to vote against someone on the basis of their religion? Religious beliefs are relevant, strong and foundational–as political candidates never tire of reminding us. No one calls it bigotry when someone votes for a candidate explicitly because, say, he cites Jesus Christ as his favorite philosopher. Yet it seems that, as a society, we’ve decided that you’re allowed to make judgments based on a candidate’s religion–but only positive ones.
This speech is an opportunity to dispel misconceptions and inform the public. If Romney wanted this question to go away or, since it isn’t going to go away, at least to go into the background, this doesn’t seem to be the speech he ought to be giving.