Here we go again.


A prominent Southern Baptist preacher from Texas has condemned the candidacy of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, saying he belongs to "a cult" because he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Here we go again.


A prominent Southern Baptist preacher from Texas has condemned the candidacy of Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney, saying he belongs to "a cult" because he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


"Every true, born-again follower of Christ ought to embrace a Christian over a non-Christian," said the Dr. Robert Jeffress, who heads a Dallas megachurch. He added that Romney, as a Mormon -- which describes GOP candidate Jon Huntsman, as well -- and perhaps even "a good moral person," is "not a Christian."


He then went on to discount not only Romney's credentials for the White House but his qualifications for heaven, as well -- as if it was his call -- before confessing that if the former Massachusetts governor wins the nomination, "I'll hold my nose and vote for Mitt Romney." Now there's an endorsement. You know, you just can't make this stuff up.


His comments have raised no end of controversy, as they always do, as they did four years ago when Jeffress said essentially the same things, as they did when GOP presidential wannabe Mike Huckabee arguably helped doom his 2008 bid by jumping on that bandwagon. Even the candidate the minister's comments were designed to benefit -- Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom he was called upon to introduce at the recent Values Voter Summit -- seemed to recognize what a nuclear no-winner they were, later refusing to concur with Jeffress' "cult" characterization.


That said, Perry also appears to want it both ways, initially praising Jeffress as having "knocked it out of the park," then backing off.


So which is it, governor? Did the pastor hit a home run, or was he wrong? For all of Perry's talk of convictions, that tells you something about his. And now he and his wife believe they're the victims here. Seriously?


Again, we've seen this show before. There was Kennedy's Catholicism, then vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman's Judaism, then all the Muslim nonsense with Barack Obama. It never ends.


Jeffress and others like him may spend a good deal of time with their Bibles but clearly not enough with the U.S. Constitution, specifically Article 6, Section 3, which states quite clearly that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States," which is as it should be. Jeffress at least acknowledges that document but maintains it's not binding on "private citizens," who are free to "impose all kinds of religious tests." So they are.


If that's an invitation, let's imagine, for the sake of argument, that all Americans who are not Baptists -- that is, most of them -- ganged up on those who are and steadfastly refused to vote for any candidate who conceded to such affiliation. After all, four previous presidents -- Warren Harding, Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton -- identified as Baptists, and of those, two did a pretty awful job by almost any definition, two were dogged by scandal, and the one generally regarded well by historians is the only leader in world history to have ordered an atomic bomb dropped on a human, civilian population, whatever its wartime justifications.


So would discriminating against Baptist politicians -- as Jeffress is with other faiths -- be fair or right or moral? This page thinks not. It certainly would not be very American. Perhaps the reverend should examine his own conscience, be careful what he wishes for, even heed Jesus' admonition about casting stones at others. Alas, human vanity being what it is, one will not hold his breath. The IRS may have better luck there by investigating whether he's now violated his church's tax-exempt status.


It's worth noting, by the way, that an Abraham Lincoln of no particular religious denomination likely would not have passed muster with many of today's religious conservatives.


Among them are zealots who would turn America into a theocracy in a heartbeat -- as long as it accorded with their own faith, of course -- despite the disaster that has proven to be in too many other countries to count. Either we are committed to religious freedom in the United States or we are not -- and if some self-appointed religious spokesman is permitted to disqualify or punish any politician strictly on the basis that the latter does not believe precisely as he does, then we are not. Either we appreciate the origins of a nation settled by those who were escaping government-backed religious persecution, or we do not. Again the genius of the Founders has been revealed.


Whatever his fitness for the job, one trusts that Romney is not running to be the Mormon president but the American president. May God grant America the wisdom to retain its blessedly secular federal government.


-- Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star