A December 6 Associated Press article by reporter Glen Johnson uncritically reported Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's complaint that a "religious test" to become president was "prohibited in the Constitution," without noting that Romney himself has repeatedly stated that Americans want a person of faith to lead them.
The AP report -- which previewed Romney's then-upcoming December 6 "Faith in America" speech, in which Romney discussed how, in his words, his "own faith would inform his Presidency if he were elected" -- stated that "Romney, confronting voters' skepticism about his Mormon faith, declared Thursday that as president he would 'serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause,' and said calls for him to explain and justify his religious beliefs go against the profound wishes of the nation's founders." The article went on to quote Romney saying: "There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. ... To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution."
But Romney has repeatedly said that he believes Americans "want a person of faith to lead them." For instance:
- Responding to Fox host Chris Wallace's assertion that "evangelicals ... say Mormonism is a cult," Romney asserted: "Well, I think people in this country want a person of faith to lead them as their governor, as their senator, as their president. I don't think most people care what brand of faith they have. ... Those things, I think, get swept away as people get to know the individual, understand their character, their vision, their values, and I think that's true regardless of a person's faith if they are a faithful person." [Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, February 26, 2006]
- In response to Fox News host Sean Hannity's statement that "it seems like" the media "are creating for you a religious litmus test" by asking Romney about his Mormonism, Romney stated: "[F]rankly, the people I talk to, not necessarily the reporters, but the people I talk to in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina tell me time and again they want a person of faith to lead the country, but they don't particularly care what brand of faith it is so long as the person has American values. And if you look at my marriage, and you look at our family and our kids, and the values that we've tried to instill in each one of our kids, you'll see that the values that I have are as American as any in this great country." [Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, March 12]
- In a recent interview with the Austin American-Statesman's W. Gardner Selby, Romney reportedly stated: "I don't think people know a lot about my faith. But what I learn as I go about the country is that people want a person of faith to lead the country, but they don't particularly care what brand of faith that is, so long as the values that person has are American values. ... Now, if people want to know more about my particular faith, they can contact my church." [Austin American-Statesman, November 22]
By contrast, after Romney gave his speech, during the 10 a.m. ET hour of MSNBC Live, journalist Sally Quinn said of the speech: "I'm really stunned because I think it was an obliteration of the idea of the separation of church and state. He eliminated anybody who was a doubter, an atheist, an agnostic, a seeker. It's like, if you believe in God or Christ, you're on my side. If not, you're not."
From Johnson's December 6 AP report:
Republican Mitt Romney, confronting voters' skepticism about his Mormon faith, declared Thursday that as president he would "serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause," and said calls for him to explain and justify his religious beliefs go against the profound wishes of the nation's founders.
At the same time, he decried those who would remove from public life "any acknowledgment of God," and he said that "during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places."
In a speech prepared for delivery less than a month before the first nomination primaries, Romney said he shares "moral convictions" with Americans of all faiths, though surveys suggest up to half of likely voters have qualms about electing the first Mormon president.
"There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines," Romney said. "To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."
Excerpts from Romney's speech, which he was delivering at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at 10:30 a.m. EST, were released in advance by his campaign.
From the 10 a.m. hour of the December 6 edition of MSNBC Live:
CHRIS MATTHEWS (MSNBC host): For the first time in this campaign, and it's been a long campaign already, I've heard greatness this morning. What I liked was his major statement here, not about his religious profession, but about his profession as to what America stands for. And he said the conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced. That was at the heart of who we are. Sally, I've got to give you a chance.
QUINN: I have to say that I'm really stunned because I think it was an obliteration of the idea of the separation of church and state. He eliminated anybody who was a doubter, an atheist, an agnostic, a seeker. It's like, if you believe in God or Christ, you're on my side. If not, you're not.
JOE SCARBOROUGH (MSNBC host): I will say what I said at the top of this hour. I thought this was a great idea. He got to stand next to the president of the United States. He got to talk about his faith, and he hit this thing out of the park. [Republican presidential candidate] Mike Huckabee was concerned about this coming up. Like I said earlier, Huckabee said, "I wish I would have an hour." He hit this out of the park. It was a great morning for him, and, you know, throw any candidate into this briar patch. Mitt Romney did well. And good luck from this point forward trying to paint this man as some survivor of Jonestown. He is an accomplished governor. He was an accomplished businessman, an extraordinary businessman. And this, as we say in the South with evangelicals all around us, that dog just won't hunt anymore, and it won't.