Viewpoint: Voters still discriminate when it comes to religion

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is the current front-runner in most Republican presidential polls, but some voters have yet to embrace the BYU graduate. Some cite his Massachusetts health care plan for their lack of support, but for one in five Republicans, his religion is the deal breaker. 

On Fox’s “Fox & Friends” program Sunday, host Ainsley Earhardt discussed the possibility of Texas Gov. Rick Perry joining the presidential race, but he would have to raise a lot of money to catch up with Romney. Earhardt said Perry had a shot, however, because of fundraising he could do among Christian voters, saying Romney, “obviously not being a Christian,” doesn’t appeal to them as much as Perry who is “always on … Christian talk shows [and] has days of prayer in Texas.”

Many Latter-day Saint beliefs are condemned by other Christian faiths as heretical. Others mock it, as Fox’s Memphis affiliate did weeks before, airing a man on the street segment where they asked questions about doctrine in a rather offensive tone.

As Latter-day Saints, we believe we are Christians. Our Church bears His name, we pray in His name, and Sunday, while “Fox and Friends” dismissed our faith as non-Christian, we sat in meetings across the globe partaking of the sacrament in remembrance of Him.

But Earhardt did have a point, and religious bigotry is the reason why.

The pool of Republican candidates for 2012 is diverse, and if anyone cited Michele Bachmann’s gender or Herman Cain’s race as a reason they were unfit to run, they would be labeled a bigot. Romney and Jon Huntsman’s religion, however, is fair game.

In June, Church spokesman Michael Otterson said, “Whoever might be elected, I expect the judgment that this nation and history will eventually render about him, or her, will have little to do with where they worshiped on the Sabbath.”

If Latter-day Saints expect voters to judge Romney by his policies and not his faith we must afford other candidates the same courtesy. And that includes one of our  own.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman angered many Latter-day Saints when he described himself as only a “spiritual” person and said he was proud of his Mormon “roots” in an interview with Time magazine in May. The reporter, Melinda Henneberger, thought his use of the word “roots” made it sound as if he was no longer a member of the Church. Huntsman clarified by saying his membership was “tough to define.”

Huntsman affirmed in later interviews he is a Latter-day Saint, but for many, the damage was done.

Latter-day Saints are understandably upset over voters dismissing Romney because of his faith, but they must also consider Huntsman and all other candidates based on their policies and experience, and not how many times a month or where they chose to go to Sunday School.

Luckily, things seem to be changing. Welton Gaddy, a Louisiana Baptist minister and president of the Interfaith Alliance, wrote to Fox’s Memphis affiliate and expressed concern over their man on the street segment, saying Romney and Huntsman “are not running as Mormons, they are running as Americans.”

“They have no more responsibility to explain or defend their faith than Michele Bachman or Tim Pawlenty,” he said. “Whoever is elected president, regardless of that person’s faith, needs to respect the religious freedom of all to practice their faith, despite how ‘strange’ it might appear to outsiders.”

As article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution says, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

It’s about time voters started acting the same way.

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