Thursday, December 6, 2007

Faith and Freedom for All Americans

Faith and Freedom for All Americans
Commentary by: Sanford D. Horn
December 6, 2007

Full disclosure – I am a Jewish Republican. I am active in the Jewish community as Men’s Club president at the Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria and I am active in Alexandria as a Republican as a member of the Alexandria Republican City Committee. Sometimes the two worlds intersect as I am also a member of the RJC – Republican Jewish Coalition – that’s right, an organization growing by leaps and bounds we no longer hold meetings in a telephone booth.

I mention all of this on the outside chance I should one day run for the presidency of the United States – after all, I am on my way. Following in the footsteps of that great Republican, Abraham Lincoln, who lost more than a dozen elections prior to ascending to the White House in 1861, I have already lost two elections – one for Baltimore City Council in 1999 and one for Alexandria School Board last year.

But I am not writing this tome for purposes of promoting myself as a candidate or any organization of which I may be a member. Instead, I am writing as an independent, small “i,” citizen-voter regarding the speech presented by GOP presidential candidate and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney on Thursday, December 06 entitled “Faith in America.”

Full disclosure again – I am not currently a supporter of Governor Romney. I am supporting US Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-CO), the longer than long shot candidate whose sole issue with any traction is that of illegal immigration. I will vote for Gov. Romney should he earn the GOP nomination.

Not since 1960 when then presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, also from Massachusetts, felt compelled to discuss his Catholic faith before the entire nation has an address like this been deemed necessary. But by whom was it deemed necessary? People lacking knowledge of the Mormon faith? After all in a recent poll only 36 percent of those asked said they would feel comfortable voting for a person of the Mormon faith. FYI, in that same survey a whopping 50 percent of those asked said they would feel comfortable voting for a Jewish presidential candidate.

People of no faith? Many people of or with no faith have an innate distrust of any candidate professing religious faith of any kind. Other Christians? In his address, Romney declared, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of G-d and the Savior of mankind.” That should more than placate nervous Christians.

And let’s face it, Jews in general terms are never terribly excited about overtly religious candidates for public office from any faith – even our own. When then vice president Al Gore boldly went where no major party nominee went before by selecting Senator Joseph I Lieberman (I-CT) to be his running mate there were those in the Jewish community that worried about Lieberman being too religious. By the way, it is Lieberman’s religiosity and conservative views on issues such as supporting the war in Iraq, and seeking to squelch the growing amount of violence, sex and rough language seen in movies and the pubic airwaves that endears him to religious Americans of many faiths.

However, if Sen. Lieberman were a stronger candidate for president that when he made a brief bid for the Democratic nomination in 2004, he would be enduring the same questions from non-believers and those lacking knowledge of Judaism. Questions are natural concerning the unknown and answers should be expected, but the issue of a candidate’s religion should not necessarily define the candidate.

Romney’s Mormon faith will no more dictate how he leads the nation should he win the 2008 presidential election any more than Kennedy’s did upon his victory in 1960. Pope John XXIII no more ran the White House during the Kennedy Administration than Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Mormon Church, would upon a Romney election.

We as Jewish people should embrace the notion of a candidate with the traditional Judeo-Christian lineage upon which this great nation was founded. As a candidate whose faith has raised questions, Romney would be the type of leader to preserve the rights of religious minorities. The foundation of the United States was based upon the principles of religious freedom.

The colony of Maryland was established as the first for Catholics. Yet, Scottish-born Presbyterian Thomas Kennedy (1776-1832), a member of the Maryland House of Delegates representing Hagerstown, fought in 1819, for "an Act to extend to the sect of people professing the Jewish religion the same rights and privileges that are enjoyed by Christians."

Soundly defeated, Kennedy pursued the bill again and again even at the cost of his House seat in 1823. Continuing the fight while out of office, Kennedy garnered his House seat again in 1825 and secured passage of what became known as the “Jew Bill” in 1826. In 1818 there lived roughly 150 Jews in Maryland, yet several months following passage of Kennedy’s bill in 1826, two Jewish candidates found themselves elected to the Baltimore City Council.

Now, 181 years, later Mitt Romney finds it necessary to discuss his faith before a national audience. The United States is a nation of faith, religion and believers. “Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people,” quoted Romney of John Adams, one of the nation’s founding fathers and second president, also from Massachusetts.

But the United States is also a nation possessing an establishment clause regarding the separation of church and state, as it says in the First Amendment of the Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

The vast majority of American citizens find no problem with the words “In G-d We Trust” on our currency, or swearing an oath to tell the truth in a courtroom, or reciting “one nation under G-d” in the Pledge of Allegiance, or in seeing a Christmas tree and Chanukah menorah standing side by side at city and town halls across this great land.

Few people would object to seeing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing at the White House under a Romney presidency any more than would object if there were kosher kitchens in the White House should a Jewish candidate win a presidential election.

This is the time of the year where at Thanksgiving, interfaith services are held around the country. Where tolerance is preached more and more. Where symbols of faith shine brightly for the next several weeks during Chanukah and Christmas. It’s not the faith of a candidate but the character of the candidate, to paraphrase the late Martin Luther King, Jr. We as Americans should demonstrate that good will toward mankind and tolerance of those candidates whose religion is different than ours. Let’s enjoy our religious freedom – freedom that comes to us as a gift from G-d.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.