Romney’s Orwellian View of Freedom

I used to say that I could see Romney as the least bad of the Republican candidates. Surely no principles was better than bad ones?

I may have to reconsider. On the one matter where one has to assume he is least likely to lie to us, the place of religion in public life, former Gov. Romney has some very strange views, such as: “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.”

The clearest statement I've seen of the problem may be slacktivist, Mitt vs. atheists, martyrs,

Let's deal with the latter assertion first: “religion requires freedom.” There are far too many counter-examples for this to be true. Think of China, where the government denies religious freedom to millions of Christians and Falun Gong adherents and Tibetan Buddhists. Yet despite this lack of freedom, despite this active oppression — and, in a way, in response to this oppression — these faiths are all thriving. ….

“Freedom requires religion,” Romney said. Had he said, “Freedom requires religious freedom,” then I would agree, absolutely. Try to imagine if you can a society in which people were denied this most intimate of freedoms, the freedom of conscience, yet remained in all other respects free. Such a thing is impossible. This is part of the genius of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Take away any one of those freedoms and you take away the others as well. Each of those freedoms requires the others.

But Romney did not say that freedom requires religious freedom. He said, “Freedom requires religion.” And that's a contradictory statement — a very different, and very frightening, thing.

If freedom requires religion, then the a-religious and irreligious, the non-religious and un-religious are the enemies of freedom. Romney believes, in other words, that atheism is incompatible with freedom. Whatever it is he means by “religious liberty,” he does not believe it can safely be applied to atheists.

Don't get me wrong: I have no problem at all with devout candidates. I respect people who want to actualize their faith — just as long as in their public life they put the First Amendment first, and don't try any back-door establishment of religion. Thus, I respect, but disagree with, people who say abortion is murder and wish to change the law to protect what they see as unborn people. I also disagree pretty strongly with people who want use state power to enforce their versions of morality, but I often do understand where they are coming from — even though I think that many of these efforts have serious constitutional difficulties and wish they were much more sensitive to these issues.

I don't respect people who want to create special programs whose real purpose is to funnel money to churches (although I don't mind at all having churches compete on a level playing field for federal funds so long as they observe the rules that apply to all recipients of federal money).

But I also respect (and would rather vote for) people whose faith — be it religious or secular — leaves more scope for individual choice and autonomy on most questions of morality.

Mitt Romney's position that atheists are or should be second-class citizens hearkens back to an old American idea, mostly abandoned in the Enlightenment period, that the irreligious were fundamentally untrustworthy because without a fear of Hell they could not be trusted to keep their oaths.

It's deeply depressing to consider that a major GOP candidate who is 200 years behind the times may still seem modern when part of a field that seems anxious to compete on who is more for torture of more detainees, and who has the cruelest plan for deporting and deterring undocumented workers.

Oh, wait. He's campaigning as just as much a troglodyte as most of the others. Romney thinks we should double the size of the Guantanamo prison camp. I suppose that since Romney thinks Muslims are unfit for top government jobs this shouldn't be totally surprising.

Race to the bottom. Dragging us down with it.

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2 Responses to Romney’s Orwellian View of Freedom

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