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Faith on the campaign trail: Romney’s religion to play a significant role

By Jessica Martin

With the ballot nearly set for the November election, Mitt Romney looks to become the first Mormon to secure a presidential nomination for a major party. 

His membership in the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints assures that religion — and the separation of church and state — will play a significant role in this presidential election, says Gregory P. Magarian, JD, free speech and election law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis.

“In general, I think it’s appropriate to consider a candidate’s religion as a part of their persona, but the candidate should get a lot of leeway in setting the terms of their religion’s role in political debate,” he says.

“(John F.) Kennedy made the strong statement in the 1960 election that Catholicism was not going to make any difference in what he did as president, and you had to take him at his word. If Romney is open about how he views his religion in the context of his public work, we should give him credence.”

Magarian notes that Romney is different than Kennedy in terms of religion. “Romney is not out there saying he’s going to be a Mormon president making Mormon policies — something very important to note — but unlike Kennedy, he has had an official role in his church,” Magarian says.

“I think that should be considered as part of his overall record, just like his work with the Olympics, his governorship and his work with Bain Capital.”://youtu.be/dphodTZ2KoQWith the ballot nearly set for the November election, Mitt Romney looks to become the first Mormon to secure a presidential candidate from a major party. Gregory P. Magarian, JD, free speech and election law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, discusses religion's role on the campaign trail.

Religion in politics

Magarian says that certain forms of religious argument pose a meaningful threat to democracy, but restricting these arguments would be an even larger threat to U.S. political culture.

“Arguments about religion undoubtedly make public political debate more contentious, fractious and difficult,” he says. “But religious argument threatens to destabilize the debate in ways that should ultimately strengthen our democracy.”

Magarian discusses religion’s role in politics in “Religious Argument, Free Speech Theory, and Democratic Dynamism,” published in a recent issue of the Notre Dame Law Review.

“Many people’s political convictions about, for example, gay marriage, draw upon their religious or conscientious commitments,” he says.

“If we push those influences to the margins of political discourse, our debate will be less engaged, less informative and ultimately less likely to generate the fresh insights needed to move us toward resolving our differences.”

MEDIA CONTACTS
Jessica Martin
Associate Director of University News, Director of News for Law and the Brown School
(314) 935-5251
jessica_martin@wustl.edu
EXPERTS @ WUSTL
Gregory Magarian
Professor of Law
(314) 935-3394
gpmagarian@wulaw.wustl.edu