It’s sort of a moot point campaign-wise at this point, but a small kudos may be in order for Mitt Romney, who apparently now regrets not including atheists in his big speech on religious freedom. According to Coffee Stained News, during a Beckett Fund awards ceremony, Romney noted that:
upon reflection, I realized that while I could defend their absence from my address, I had missed an opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert the following: non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty.
If a society takes it upon itself to prescribe and proscribe certain streams of belief — to prohibit certain less-favored strains of conscience — it may be the non-believer who is among the first to be condemned. A coercive monopoly of belief threatens everyone, whether we are talking about those who search the philosophies of men or follow the words of God.
We are all in this together. Religious liberty and liberality of thought flow from the common conviction that it is freedom, not coercion, that exalts the individual just as it raises up the nation.
I criticized Romney’s original speech way back when, and I’m not sure I see this quote as really addressing some of the intellectual ickyness that I found so distastefully confused when it comes to the role of religion and government. He doesn’t correct his own misrepresentation of the concerns of many non-believers, or even say that we recognize our stake in defending religious liberty (we do). He just says that we have one. Still, a passing mention and acknowledgment is better than merely painting atheists as boogeymen.