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As Mitt Romney ratchets up religious rhetoric, Paul Ryan gets it wrong

Published: Monday, Sept. 17 2012 11:43 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., arrive for a campaign rally in Powell, Ohio. The Romney campaign is playing the religion card more as a way to rally its base in key swing states. (Evan Vucci, Associated Press) FILE - In this Aug. 25, 2012 file photo, Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his vice presidential running mate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., arrive for a campaign rally in Powell, Ohio. The Romney campaign is playing the religion card more as a way to rally its base in key swing states. (Evan Vucci, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Romney campaign has shifted its strategy to reference religion as a way to rally its conservative base in an effort to win key swing states, websites are reporting.

"Mitt Romney's campaign has concluded that the 2012 election will not be decided by elusive, much-targeted undecided voters — but by the motivated partisans of the Republican base," says BuzzFeed.

"This shifting campaign calculus has produced a split in Romney's message. His talk show interviews and big ad buys continue to offer a straightforward economic focus aimed at traditional undecided voters. But out stumping day-to-day is a candidate who wants to talk about patriotism and God, and who is increasingly looking to connect with the right's intense, personal dislike for President Barack Obama."

Jacques Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University professor with an expertise in religion and politics, tells CNN that he sees the change as a response to Obama doing better in recent polls.

“When (Republicans) get nervous about a loss, they go into base-whip-up stage,” Berlinerblau said. “They try to energize the base even more.”

CNN quotes Romney's evangelical adviser Mark DeMoss who explained that injecting religious rhetoric into campaign speeches is a way to draw a contrast with the Democratic Party, which drew unwanted attention over a flap on whether to remove the mention of God in the party's platform.

"Some religious leaders and scholars see Romney's new God talk in a somewhat different light," the story said. "The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and media commentator, said Romney’s line that 'I will not take God out of my heart' is a coded way to question" the veracity of Obama’s Christian faith.

But DeMoss said interpreting Romney's “I will not take God out of my heart" statement as a judgment of Obama's personal religious commitment is a stretch.

“I take that comment as a reinforced pledge and commitment that God is not going to be stripped from anything if he has anything to say about it, whether it is his heart or the public square or the party platform,” DeMoss said. “I think it would be unreasonable or unfair to suggest that that was a comment on the president.”

The BuzzFeed story said tapping Paul Ryan as Romney's running mate was part of the rallying-the-base strategy. When Ryan was in Utah earlier this month, a campaign volunteer asked him whether he supported giving states the right to allow "prayer or pledge" in schools, a pet issue of the religious right.

Ryan said he did, according to the Associated Press.

"That's a constitutional issue of the states, moral responsibility of parents, education," Ryan continued.

And while his support for prayer in school is not a surprise, calling school prayer a state issue was off-base, blogged Rob Boston, senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

"Let’s dissect this a bit. First off, Ryan’s claim that school prayer is 'a constitutional issue of the states' is inaccurate. State legislators can, of course, pass school prayer laws if they want, but it’s a waste of time. If a law mandates or compels young people to take part in prayer or religious worship, the courts will strike it down."

He cites the landmark 1962 Supreme Court case that banned government sponsored prayer in public schools and is often cited as the opening salvo in the ongoing culture wars.

Legal scholars on both sides of the debate agree the high court's 50-year-old ruling has been commonly misinterpreted and misapplied by those who agree with it and those who don't.

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