Sikhs attend a news conference Monday in Oak Creek, Wisc., on Sunday's… (Tasos Katopodis / AFP/Getty…)
I often feel the criticism of GOP hopeful Mitt Romney over his near-daily supposed gaffes goes too far, and yet... he just makes it so easy. The latest case in point: His statement of condolence following the mass shootings Sunday at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc.
"This was a senseless act of violence and a tragedy that should never befall any house of worship," read part of Romney's official statement in the wake of the slaughter, which left seven dead, including the suspected gunman. Does that mean such killings are any less vile when they don't occur at a house of worship -- like, say, when they take place in a movie theater in suburban Aurora, Colo.?
In Romney's defense, he isn't alone in presuming the Wisconsin shootings hold particular resonance for the religious community. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., also put out a statement that would strike most non-religious people as a tad insensitive: "People of faith everywhere must stand together to condemn this terrible act, and to reach out in support of the victims and their families in this time of need." So, only people of faith need to do that? Because those without it are devoid of sympathy?
VIDEO: New information on suspect in Wisconsin temple shooting
President Obama steered clear of such sentiments, merely noting that the shootings took place at a house of worship and that our nation has been enriched by Sikhs, who are "a part of our broader American family." This probably just indicates that the president has smarter and more inclusive speechwriters than the GOP nominee, but it also points up why Romney, whose statement seemed to imply that the lives of worshippers are more important than the lives of others, is having trouble connecting to people outside his base on the religious right.
There is a possible justification for Romney's statement. It's still unclear whether Sunday's attack was an act of domestic terrorism, a hate crime, or neither. But if it does turn out to be one of the first two, then it's a crime that our laws consider more serious than a simple act of mass murder. The facts that the shootings targeted Sikhs, who are often mistaken in this country for Muslims, and that they took place at a temple seem to suggest an assault on a specific group. That would be more reprehensible, legally speaking, than a deranged gunman slaughtering people at random. But then, that's really not what Romney said; he just seems to think it's terrible that any religious facility would be targeted.
Trying to figure out what percentage of Americans are atheists, agnostics, deists or just spiritually ambiguous folks who never attend a house of worship is a tricky business, because surveys are seldom inclusive enough to gather this entire population, but research suggests the figure is somewhere between 15% and 23%. That's too big a group to needlessly alienate.
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