Mitt Romney may or may not be a flip-flopper or a carpetbagger, two labels his primary election opponent tried repeatedly to hang on him in Tuesday’s debate and beyond.
Republican voters can decide the accuracy, and the relevance, of those charges when they vote in their U.S. Senate primary June 26.
But the label that Romney has used to describe one American who inexplicably was invited to speak at the opening of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is correct and bold.
Robert Jeffress is a bigot.
Jeffress is also, as former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman once said, a “moron.”
The Texas minister is best known for (and probably wouldn’t be known at all without) his remarks that cast any religion other than his own brand of Southern Baptist fundamentalism as “heresy from the pit of hell.”
Jeffress has specifically called out Mormonism, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism as false faiths that will lead their followers away from God. He called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “a cult.”
The First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of religion and freedom of speech mean that Jeffress is free to spout his feelings anywhere and any time he can round up an audience. They also mean that Romney can call him out on it.
Those guarantees also mean that state Rep. Mike Kennedy, Romney’s primary election rival, is free to defend Jeffress, attack Romney and even call the firebrand pastor to apologize for Romney’s attack.
But Romney is still right. And Kennedy’s habit of bring the subject up is odd and troubling.
All of this might not matter except that, in being selected to speak at the embassy opening, Jeffress wasn’t just speaking to America. He was, it might be inferred, speaking for America. And that was a very bad idea.
Following one’s own faith is a basic human right. Using the public square — not just one’s own pulpit but also official functions of the government — to degrade other faiths and their followers as Jeffress does is to call them less than godly. Which, to people who care about such things, is to suggest that they are less than human.
Which is used to justify all manner of division, hatred and violence.
Raul Hilberg, a historian of the Holocaust, noted that the path in the history of Europe that led to the destruction of millions of lives could be reduced to, first, “You may not live among us as Jews.” Then, “You may not live among us.” And finally, “You may not live.”
Left unchallenged, the public positions taken by Jeffress and those like him are dangerous.
Mitt Romney is right to challenge them.