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Mitt Romney's Role as Mormon Bishop Shows His Extremist Religious Beliefs

Romney has consistently avoided having his Mormon beliefs put under scrutiny. There are some good reasons for that.

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This wasn’t the first time the Mormon hierarchy intruded in politics to impose its sectarian views on the public. Claiming that the LDS president and prophet had received a revelation from God to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment, in 1976 the Mormon Church formally opposed the amendment and mobilized Mormon women to be footsoldiers in the anti-ERA campaign. “We fear it will even stifle many God-given feminine instincts,” wrote the members of the LDS First Presidency, Spencer Kimball, N. Eldon Tanner and Marion G. Romney, Mitt’s cousin. Using the same rationale it does today regarding gay marriage, the church deemed the ERA a “ moral issue” that compelled it to act. And harshly, at that. Salt Lake City excommunicated Sonia Johnson, a prominent pro-ERA Mormon who had clashed with Senator Orrin Hatch in a Senate hearing. Years after Salt Lake City had helped send the ERA down to defeat, and as late as 2000, LDS authorities were still excommunicating Mormon feminists.

Now, nothing in these stories sharply distinguishes the Mormon Church from the American Catholic Church’s political activism and threats against elected Catholics, say, on abortion or birth control. Nor do these stories of Romney’s governorship distinguish Romney from the Mike Huckabees, Paul Ryans and Rick Santorums of the Republican Party. They do, however, call into question certain assumptions about Romney that the GOP establishment is keen to cultivate--that he is a pragmatic, technocratic conservative who is merely pandering to the religious far-right, that Mr. Turnaround only cares about the economy.

Sixty-two years ago, another presidential candidate from a minority religion told voters, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” John F. Kennedy went on to promise that no priest, bishop or pope would hold any power over him. “Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with [my views as the Democratic candidate for president and] in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”

Romney’s statements on religion and politics cut exactly the opposite way. “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom, ” Romney asserted in a major 2007 speech. If that Orwellian turn of phrase doesn’t give you chills, consider this. Moments before he said that, Romney had asserted, “Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us,” and thus insinuated that a major world religion was little more than a terrorist front. Granted, Romney acknowledged the “separation of church and state,” but mainly to warn that the greatest threat to liberty emanates from “the religion of secularism.” This dogwhistle to the religious far-right has morphed into Romney’s oft-repeated charge that Obama is waging a “war against religion.”

Romney has now uttered the word “Mormon” in public. That’s not enough. Americans have a right to full disclosure about how his faith shapes his views on policy, how his longstanding personal relationship with the LDS Church might influence his actions as president, and how he might resolve a conflict between his presidential duties and his church over so-called “moral issues.”

Is Mitt Romney an establishment conservative or a Mormon militant? Voters won’t discover the truth unless we ask the right questions and demand that Romney not dodge them. Before it’s too late.

Nancy L Cohen is the author of Delirium: The Politics of Sex in America. Her writing has been published in Playboy, the Los Angeles Times,, the Guardian, and elsewhere. She holds a PhD in US political history from Columbia University and is the author of two previous books on American politics. You can follow her on Twitter@nancylcohen


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