There's no place for religious bigotry when choosing our next President

The existing national discourse has given considerable attention to the many potential 'presidential firsts' that the current race for the White House presents.

It is a unique moment in history, when you consider the possibility of a president with African-American or Hispanic heritage, or the prospect that for the first time in our history a woman will be the standard bearer for a major political party.

While these events may be indicators of our nation moving beyond past struggles with inequality, another 'first' has presented itself that has brought a more notable reaction. I'm speaking of Gov. Mitt Romney and, if elected, his status as the first president to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or, the 'Mormon Church,' as it is commonly referred.

Some of the more prominent members of mainstream Christianity like Dr. James Dobson, the Focus on the Family founder, and Mr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention have often spoken highly of Gov. Romney. But this campaign season has already opened up to attacks upon the candidate based solely upon his faith by groups we often title as the 'Secular Left' and the 'Religious Right.'

But this is nothing new for American politics. In fact, around 1960 public polls indicated that nearly a quarter of the country simply refused to consider John F. Kennedy's candidacy because he was a Catholic. That is identical to today's figures on Mitt Romney. JFK was able to overcome the baseless accusations that he'd be an 'agent of Rome' if elected, and seemed to prove that this country really believed there shouldn't be a religious test for public servants.

Growing up in current times, my classmates and I have always been told that anyone, regardless of their economic, social, racial or religious background could grow up to be successful in this nation, and maybe even President. So when we read headlines asking if American can handle a Mormon president, or come across those who openly reject the notion of Mitt Romney's candidacy based on his faith alone, it comes as somewhat of a shock.

The frequent use of social labels instead of political beliefs to define certain candidates presents a real problem and is contrary to the principles that so many American heroes from Patrick Henry to Martin Luther King Jr. risked their lives for.

With regards to Mitt Romney, I take interest in his campaign because I generally agree with his politics, but won't judge his ability to lead by what specific Christian denomination he claims membership in. Some will argue in response that faith deeply guides the course of this nation, and I'd tend to agree. But before we use a theological checklist to pick our preferred candidate, let's remember, we're not picking a Sunday school teacher, we're electing a President.

I believe this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, thanks to the faith of the men who established this country, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and so forth. But if any of us were to hold these men, particularly Jefferson or Madison, to a standard where we judged their electability on their views regarding specific religious doctrine, you could argue these men were unsuitable for the office for the same reason some reject Romney.

To use a more modern example, consider the 1980 Presidential election. Jimmy Carter was a practicing Baptist who even taught Sunday school for many years. Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, was a divorced, former actor who rarely attended church. Reagan may have been a man of personal faith, but his particular brand of faith would not be as 'acceptable' to those today who'd rather judge a candidate by where he attends church, than by his stances on the issues.

The entire notion that rejects Mr. Romney because of his church undermines an established trend...Methodists and Catholics and Mormons (and so on) have long been political allies in the pro-life movement or the effort to defend traditional marriage. Why would some conservatives choose to reject Romney over his church, when he'd be the ally they seek on social issues?

I'm not offering an endorsement of Mitt Romney at the moment, but instead rejecting the religious bigotry that is likely to rear its head much more as this race progresses, which is something we need to confront. If we really believe in the principles this country was founded on, we'd focus on qualifications before private affiliations.

Just as JFK, the Democrat from Massachusetts who happened to be a Catholic, was able to overcome prejudice, we should give a fair look to Mitt Romney, the Republican from Massachusetts who happens to be a Mormon.

Jonas Linde is a senior at Sunnyside High School, and is a member of the school's leadership class.


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