The Republican Party can trace its roots all the way back to Washington. While it is true that Washington and Adams both were Federalists, they were also the conservatives of their generation. Jefferson, who became president in 1801, was the first “liberal” and his was the Republican Party. The party of Jefferson, however, disappeared with the Whigs only to return as the party of Lincoln.
None of our first four presidents were religious men. There is continuing discussion among historians as to what, if any, religion Jefferson truly ascribed to. But it was a very conservative Adams, and equally conservative Madison, who made a point of distancing the federal government from any form of religion. Their reasoning was simple and clear. They remembered the heavy-handed dictates of the King of England insisting that his subjects be members of the Church of England. It was this absolute separation of church and state, as much as anything, that brought the original settlers from England to America. The second part of the first amendment is an affirmation of that fact.
Mitt Romney is a very conservative evangelical Christian. His running-mate, Ryan, is a very conservative Roman Catholic. The irony of those two being on the same ticket is that each of their chosen religions was a huge detractor of the other during the 19th and a good part of the 20th centuries. Each religion based itself of certain absolute ideas and ideals over which they were unwilling or unable to find any middle-ground with dissenters of that particular belief. In the late-20th century, at least one Mormon tel-evangelist referred to Catholics as evil in no uncertain terms. To be fair, and having been brought up Catholic, we were led to believe that the only true Christians were Catholics. I believe Romney is crafty enough that he realized such a division could be brought up during his campaign for president, hence his drafting Ryan. To many, the charismatic Marco Rubio was a better choice of running-mate, but that would have put two evangelical Mormons on the same ticket.
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, evangelical Christians, lead by Jerry Falwell, formed what they called “the moral majority” and started a systematic takeover of the Republican party. To be sure, they were conservatives all and well-financed. But the “moral majority” fell apart when Jim Baker, and other prominent far right-wingers, were found guilty of marital infidelity and other such things. But the Falwells were simply the figureheads for well-monied ultra-conservative Republicans. They quite simply set an agenda and required all Republicans to buy-in or see their campaign funding dry up.
Not all Republicans have toed that line. I do not believe that Scott Brown, a Republican US Senator from my own state, is of the ilk although I do think he has found himself in the position of voting for positions that are unpopular with his constituency rather than risk becoming a pariah. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has also shown courage of conviction to buck his party’s line. Unfortunately, he is far from being a centrist.
The “Tea Party” has a hand in all this. It is the answer to the Libertarian ideas of Ron Paul. But unlike Ron Paul, it has a close alliance with evangelical America. While Ron Paul takes a very pragmatic approach to reducing government, the Tea Party seeks quick draconian measures that would basically kill the middle class as it increases the gap between the rich and the poor.
I think everyone should be allowed to practice whatever religion they desire. But I do not want their religion, or mine for that matter, being used as a basis for public policy and law. Religion is one of the most personal things that exists. Even among the most conservative group of people of a same religion, you will find differences in their beliefs. And while these difference may seem minor, they are important to each individual. How do you dictate what, religious in content, a country should hear, should have as a part of its public policy, and worse, a part of its law?
Good government and good government policy can only be built upon the absence of religious belief. It is not unpatriotic, for example, to be an atheist, although ultra-conservative Republicans will have you think that so. I demand freedom from your religion, as you should demand of me. My First Amendment right says that will be so. I do not, however, believe that is the plan of evangelical Republicans who have found a leader in Mitt Romney, and who have kidnapped the once proud and pragmatic Republican Party. Please give back the Republican Party of Lincoln, of Teddy Roosevelt, and of Dwight Eisenhower.