Mitt Romney's ominous verb

In his religion speech today, the former Massachusetts governor goes in dangerous directions in linking faith to freedom.

Published December 6, 2007 3:28PM (EST)

Reading the advance text of Mitt Romney's speech this morning on "Faith in America," I came upon a very un-American verb. (No, it is not the transitive use of "torture" or "waterboard.") The verb in question -- which is normally innocuous, but in this context is ominous -- is "require."

Here is the passage that troubles me: "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 perish alone."

In the speech, Romney is attempting to pull off the "have it both ways" shuffle. He is aligning himself with those conservatives advocating more religion in the public sphere while simultaneously arguing that the doctrines of Mormonism should be off-limits in the campaign. In my judgment, Romney is half-right here -- no one should quiz him about his religious beliefs or vote against him because of his church. (For those who crave more on my views read today's piece.) But this back-and-forth is all part of the standard political debate that has been going on since, at least, the Supreme Court banned school prayer in 1963.

But Romney's disturbing use of the verb "requires" is different. Here is the key passage again: "Freedom requires religion." That statement is historically ludicrous, unless Romney somehow considers the non-monotheistic Zeus-and-Jupiter belief systems that flourished in fifth century Athens and under the Roman republic to be part of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The objectionable point here is the ill-concealed notion that only those who are truly religious crave freedom. Secularists may, in Romney's vision, give lip service to freedom. But when the chips are down, they will presumably sell out liberty for a pair of backstage passes to the MTV Awards or a chance to rip the Ten Commandments from a courthouse wall. That is the inescapable meaning of the sentence: "Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone."

What Romney might have said is the far more truthful: "Republican politics and religion prosper together, or they lose elections alone."

By Walter Shapiro

Walter Shapiro, a Fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, is an award-winning political columnist who has covered the last nine presidential campaigns. Along the way, he has worked as Salon's Washington bureau chief, as well as for The Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, Esquire, USA Today and, most recently, Yahoo News. He is also a lecturer in political science at Yale University. He can be reached by email at and followed on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.

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2008 Elections Mitt Romney Religion