Did Romney Declare Opposing Beliefs Illegitimate?

Ezra Klein praises the first half of Romney’s speech, but comes down hard on the finish:

[A]fter taking the principled stand that the specifics of his faith were not relevant to his pursuit of the presidency, Romney spat upon the bright line he had just drawn, and proclaimed himself safely within the bounds of the dominant religious groups whose votes he desires. “There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked,” he said. “What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind.”

I don’t know whether Mitt Romney believes that or not. I don’t really care. But I don’t believe that. My beliefs, or lack thereof, are less broadly accepted. And Romney, by prominently proclaiming his fealty to traditional Christian doctrine, just said, essentially, that they are illegitimate.

Did he? Really? I’m not exactly a Romney fanboy, but I still don’t see it. In fact, I see just the opposite: Romney doesn’t condemn nonbelievers, he simply says he’s not one of them. But he prefaces this by saying, quite forcefully, that it’s right and good to accept those who believe differently.

The way I read the speech is that Romney first said that religion should neither deny a man the job of president nor simply hand it over to him, and argued that all people, even the president, have both the freedom to believe as they choose and the obligation to show a measure of respect to those who believe differently.

And then he went on to explain, in broad, anodyne language, the general shape of his own personal beliefs. Not because he felt they would either grant or deny him the presidency, or because he wanted to use them as a tool for division, but because it is reasonable to ask about the beliefs of a man running for the highest office in the land. In fact, he follows the statement that Ezra quotes by saying that all belief systems are unique, but all are deserving of civility: “Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree.” This hardly seems like a threat, or a declaration of “illegitimacy.”

Romney’s speech had problems—among them, its very existence—but it doesn’t seem plausible to interpret it as a call for rejecting those whose views on religion differ. If anything, it said exactly the opposite—awkwardly, perhaps, and with a lack of focus and far too much emphasis on that which he has vowed not to say (no speech should focus so heavily on that which you refuse to talk about; it only calls more attention to the shrouded topic).

But by Ezra’s reasoning, anyone, or at least any politician, who admits to religious belief somehow also declares all opposing beliefs “illegitimate.” That seems pretty thin to me, especially considering the many liberal legislators who would and do make public admissions of faith. Are they, also, all attacking Ezra’s religious views? I don’t see why it’s not possible to say, from the outset, that some particular religious belief should neither be a ticket into office nor a barrier to it, and then announce one’s own beliefs while declaring personal respect for all others. And, essentially, I think that’s pretty much what Romney did.