Sometimes things happen in American politics that make no sense at all. We are experiencing just one of those moments in the 2008 presidential campaign.
I thought that the concept of a religious test for public office in our country was put to bed once and for all when John Kennedy, a Catholic, was elected president in 1960 and Joe Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, was nominated for vice president in 2000.
Now we have a candidate with a record of accomplishment, Mitt Romney, who is consistently lagging in the polls with the most credible reason being that significant numbers of Republican primary voters will not support him because of his Mormon religion.
When voters, particularly in the South, are asked to identify candidates that they would not support for president under any circumstances, Romney leads the list. Romney is rejected as a potential presidential candidate in this type polling more often than other polarizing figures such as Rudy Giuliani. It has become increasingly clear that many conservative voters will not support an otherwise qualified candidate who happens to be a Mormon.
As a Democrat, I wouldn’t vote for Romney in the general election if he is nominated by the Republican Party. But I’ll be damned if I can understand why he should be disqualified from seeking his party’s nomination because of his religion. This makes no logical sense in the world’s greatest democracy in the 21st century.
One of the reasons that this makes so little sense to me is that I have spent most of my adult life in the most religiously tolerant major city in the South -- Dallas, Texas.
Dallas, with a Jewish population of only about 35,000 out of more than one million residents, has been served by three Jewish mayors (Adlene Harrison, Annette Strauss and Laura Miller), numerous Jewish members of the City Council, two Jewish state representatives (Steve Wolens and Alvin Granoff) and a Jewish Congressman (myself).
Additionally, Dallas produced the first Jewish chairman of the Democratic National Committee (Bob Strauss) and the neighboring county to the north (Collin County) has been represented by a Jewish state senator (Florence Shapiro) for many years. All this has occurred in the last 30 years.
So, FOX viewers and readers, tell me why we should have a religious test for public office in this country.
We are the greatest democracy on the face of the earth and yet we apparently are choosing to rely on religious discrimination when picking our next leader.
The answer that many people give is that Mormonism is a cult, not a religion. If that is so, then why do we permit Mormons who have served in our military to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery? Religious symbols appear on all the gravestones at Arlington.
My late wife Kathy, who served in the U.S. Army for 31 years, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The person in the grave next to her is a Mormon.
Mormons pay taxes, can wear the uniform of our county, and can die for our country. There are Mormon members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. And yet significant numbers of voters believe they are not qualified to serve as president.
I love my country. But that doesn’t mean that my country doesn’t disappoint me from time to time. I anxiously await your emails on this subject.
Martin Frost served in Congress from 1979 to 2005, representing a diverse district in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. He served two terms as chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, the third-ranking leadership position for House Democrats, and two terms as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Frost serves as a regular contributor to FOX News Channel and is a partner at the law firm of Polsinelli, Shalton, Flanigan and Suelthaus. He holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri and a law degree from the Georgetown Law Center.