It hasn’t been a very good week for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. The presumptive Republican nominee has been dealing with the revelations of “troubling incidents” related to bullying gay classmates in the same week that the president gave his support for same-sex marriage rights. Now, in what can only be called unfortunate timing, Romney will be giving the commencement speech today at Liberty University, the school founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.
“Whatever the exact explanation, Romney and his team clearly do not feel that they can take the support and – maybe more importantly – the enthusiasm of evangelicals for granted the way most previous Republican nominees could. This could severely complicate Romney’s efforts to separate himself from what to general election swing voters are some of the most unappealing aspects of the modern Republican Party. Any position he takes or utterance he makes that puts him at odds with the Christian right threatens to prompt a loud uproar from evangelical leaders. How much slack (if any) they’re willing to cut Romney in the name of general election expediency is unclear at this point.”
All eyes will be on Romney to see if he can solidify support among conservative Evangelical Christians, a group that has been reluctant to admit he’s Christian at all due to his Mormon faith. While Romney has tentatively tried to stand up for his religion, a full-throated defense of the rights of religious minorities in this country has yet to emerge. Anyone expecting a “Sister Souljah moment” will no doubt be disappointed, Romney needs Liberty University and the forces it represents on his side, and that means overlooking its unfortunate, hurtful, retrograde, beliefs. Those beliefs include fighting against “homosexual propaganda,” and, naturally, a virulently anti-Pagan ethos. It is an ethos that goes far beyond the late Falwell’s infamous 9/11 comments.
“I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way–all of them who have tried to secularize America–I point the finger in their face and say “you helped [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] happen.”
According to Right Wing Watch, school policy itself reserves the harshest of punishments for Liberty students who might engage in a Pagan or esoteric practices.
30 Reprimands + $500.00 Fine + 30 hours Disciplinary Community Service + possible Administrative Withdrawal. [...] Involvement with witchcraft, séances or other satanic or demonic activity.
It should be pointed out that “involvement with witchcraft” is placed in the same category as rape, committing a felony crime, unauthorized weaponry, and selling drugs. As a private university, LU certainly has the right to make any rules it wants for its students, including the banning of “demonic activity,” but it should also make us ask what that means when individuals who want to run the United States pander to them. Frankly, any national politician who seeks the imprimatur of Liberty University needs to immediately clarify their stance on pluralism in our country.
To reiterate what I’ve said before, the seeming impossibility of Mitt Romney standing up for religious minorities saddens me. If the eventual Republican party nominee can’t say “this is a nation where all faiths are allowed to the table, and protected by our Constitution” then something is fundamentally broken. I’m not expecting any Republican to suddenly embrace Wiccans, or to showcase Dan Halloran at a campaign stop, but I am expecting a basic adherence to the notion that people of all religions are included and protected in our great democratic experiment.
Perhaps we truly are entering a “Libertarian moment” in 2012, and fiscally conservative/socially liberal Pagans alienated by the prominence of conservative Christianity will flock to former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee, who expressed “no consternation within my campaign” when it comes to taking modern Pagans seriously in our electorate. That may not worry Mitt Romney, but is should worry Republicans who want to thrive in an increasingly post-Christian world. Eventually all those “others,” agnostics, and “nones” will add up to the margin of victory.