religion in Texas and John F. Kennedy's famous speech on his Roman Catholic religion to a very hostile audience of conservative Catholic baiting group Protestant ministers in Houston, Texas, in 1960.
The most important difference is that Kennedy emphasized over and over again his and U.S. Catholics commitment to the separation of Church and State as a foundation of the U.S. constitution and a basic principle for every elected official from the president on down, in spite of the attempts by hostile ministers to bait him during the question and answer session, by reading from Catholic publications over the generations to contend that the Catholic hierarchy rejected the separation of Church and State unconditionally and encouraged Catholic officials to lie in the taking of oaths which conflicted with this and other Catholic doctrines. Kennedy handled this quite effectively by pointing to the fact that these statements were presented out of context and making it clear that he would never impose his religious beliefs or any religious beliefs that in any way conflicted with his role as president and that he would preserve and protect the rights of all religious believers and the equality of all religious groups before secular law.
Romney not only faced no hostile questioners, but more importantly said very little about the Separation of Church and State, which the party that he is trying to lead has undermined in practice in unprecedented ways for decades as a matter of political strategy. What he said in effect was that he would be the president of those who prayed to and believed in a single God. What does it mean to say that "I will take care to separate the affairs of state from any religion but I will never separate us from the God who gave us liberty." The God who was on the side of the American revolution, when the predecessors of many of the present day conservative Christians supported the British empire, since the leaders of the revolution, both believers and enlightenment thinkers who saw God as a first mover and nothing else, fought against established conservative clergy and religious institutions which were a significant part of the colonial power structure.
Furthermore Romney crudely appealed to the religious right by stating that the principle of separation of church and state had been distorted "in recent years" by those who see it as "merely a private matter with no place in public life It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America--the religion of secularism. They are wrong.'
But religion is a private matter and the leaders of the American revolution and framers of the U.S. constitution saw it overwhelmingly in that way. A great many, were, as I noted earlier, in the tradition of
the Enlightenment, what the religious right in the U.S. and Romney have long denounced as secular humanists. Even the conservative ministers who were baiting JFK in 1960 saw themselves as defending Separation of Church and State, which they identified with American liberty, as against the Catholic Church, which they saw the HUAC saw the Communist party to a considerable extent, that is an international conspiracy against freedom whose members followed orders from the Vatican the way Communists were supposed to follow orders from the Kremlin.
Today, these right-wingers, whatever distrust they may have of Mormonism (and, it should be said that unlike JFK, who over and over again defended his Catholic faith and Church and challenged the negative
portrayal of it in his 1960 talk, Romney said next to nothing about being a Mormon) have been the shock troops of the attack on the separation of Church and State, which has advanced mightily since Ronald Reagan became president, turning a great many of the right wing churches into defacto tax exempt political clubs of the Republican party.
Anyone seriously interested in religious freedom and the separation of Church and State in the U.S. should realized, from Romney's pandering to the religious right, that the defense of both religious freedom and the separation of Church and State depends on the defeat of the Republican party at all levels in 2008.