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Mitt Romney’s speech today on the role of his religion in public life should be enough to disqualify him from being President, but the reasons have nothing to do with "his church’s distinctive doctrines," which he declined to describe, even as he disingenuously assured us that his values "are the self-same as those from the other faiths." What Romney confessed is that he doesn’t believe in the Constitution.

"When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office," Romney warned us, "that oath becomes my highest promise to God." But Romney then made clear that the promise was to undermine the "Establishment Clause" of the Constitution’s 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.

You see, the framers understood that to keep a diverse nation from tearing itself apart in religious strife they had to preserve and protect two equally important principles: the one respecting the free exercise of religion, which Romney now invokes, and the other, which Romney seeks to undermine, prohibiting the state from establishing religion.

It’s on this latter principle where Romney sends a clear dog whistle to the fundamentalists who most distrust his religious views. When he says he shares their views, he means he shares the view that government should be free to undermine the establishment clause when promoting those religious tenets that he and the fundamentalists share. We hear that whistle throughout the speech, but to set the stage, Romney first performs an intellectual sleight of hand.

‘There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation’s founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adam’s words: ‘We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. … Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.’

Note that when he’s quoting the founders, the survival of freedom is explicitly linked to religious freedom. But then Romney does a bait and switch in the next paragraph:

‘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.

So the original principle was that freedom and religious freedom are indivisible; that is, one is part of the other. But when Romney translates it, freedom and religion require each other, and that’s the wedge he then uses to undermine the Establishment Clause in the First Amendment. He then starts chipping away:

No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. [note the establishment prohibition is now missing from that sentence] But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair 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.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust.

Most Americans would say, "well that’s probably okay," but he’s not done. Having said it’s okay to limit the scope of the Establishment Clause, he goes on to assure right wing fundamentalists, who want to strangle that clause, that he’s sympathetic:

‘We should acknowledge the Creator as did the founders — in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our Constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from ‘the God who gave us liberty.’

"Ceremony and word"? Does that mean laws? Or faith-based initiatives run out of the White House? And what does he mean by "teaching of our history?" Isn’t that a dog whistle to teaching religion — read: our common Christian religion — in public schools? And how should we interpret Romney’s new litmus test for federal judges, if not as a requirement that they be willing to endorse government efforts to chip away at the Establishment Clause?

In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. [That would be the Muslims, I think.] And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me.

How reassuring.

Photo: Blake Lawrence: Mitt Romney_Power_Point