Romney, confronting voters' skepticism about his Mormon
faith, declared Thursday in College Station,
Texas, that as president he would ''serve no one
religion, no one group, no one cause,'' and said calls
for him to explain and justify his religious beliefs go
against the profound wishes of the nation's founders.
At the same time,
he decried those who would remove from public life
''any acknowledgment of God,'' and he said that ''during the
holiday season, Nativity scenes and menorahs should be
welcome in our public places.''
In a speech less
than a month before the first nomination contests,
Romney said he shares ''moral convictions'' with Americans
of all faiths, though surveys suggest up to half of
likely voters have qualms about electing the first
''I believe in my
Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it,'' Romney
said. ''My faith is the faith of my fathers. I will be true
to them and to my beliefs.''
strove to clarify his personal line between church and
state, recalling a similar speech delivered by John F.
Kennedy in 1960 as Kennedy sought to become the first
Catholic elected president.
''Let me assure
you that no authorities of my church, or of any other
church for that matter, will ever exert influence on
presidential decisions,'' Romney said at the George
Bush Presidential Library and Museum, 90 miles from
Kennedy's speaking site in Houston. ''Their authority
is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it
ends where the affairs of the nation begin.''
He added, ''If I
am fortunate to become your president, I will serve no
one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one
interest. A president must serve only the common cause
of the people of the United States.''
lasted about 20 minutes and was interrupted a dozen times
by applause from the invited audience. He said the word
''Mormon'' only once, otherwise referring to ''my
religion,'' ''my faith,'' and ''my church.''
He hoped the
speech would allay concerns of Christian conservatives, some
of whom have propelled former Arkansas governor Mike
Huckabee to join him atop the polls in Iowa. Its
caucuses kick off presidential voting next month.
Romney stated he
is often asked on the trail whether he believes in Jesus
''I believe that
Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of
mankind,'' he said. While conceding Mormons have different
beliefs about the earthly presence of Jesus Christ,
''each religion has its own unique doctrines and
history.... Religious tolerance would be a shallow
principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with
which we agree.''
Romney's challenge, one of his own invited guests said he
believes Mormons are not Christians.
''I don't think
his Mormonism is a deal breaker for most Americans, but
only Mitt Romney can close the deal,'' Richard Land,
president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics
and Religious Liberty Commission, told ABC's Good
Morning America. Asked directly if he thought
Mormons were Christians, Land said, ''No, I do not.''
Huckabee, who was
a Southern Baptist preacher before entering politics,
said that Romney's religion has no bearing on whether he
would make a good president.
''It has nothing
to do with what faith a person has -- it's whether or
not that person's life is consistent with how he lives it,''
Huckabee said Thursday on NBC's Today. ''If I
had actions that were completely opposite of my
Christian faith, then I would think people would have
reason to doubt if this part of my life, which is supposed
to be so important, doesn't influence me.''
former Massachusetts governor, also used the occasion to
sound a call for greater religious thought in daily civic
life, providing a near-history lesson as he recalled
religion in American political life since the
proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they
did not countenance the elimination of religion from the
public square,'' he said.
In an appeal to
social conservatives, he also invited James Bopp Jr., an
anti-abortion activist who is Romney's special adviser on
have accused Romney of switching his positions on some
social issues, like abortion, when it became expedient.
those concerns in the context of standing by his faith,
saying, ''Americans do not respect believers of convenience.
Americans tire of those who would jettison their
beliefs, even to gain the world.''
Bush introduced Romney, heightening public attention to
the speech. Romney's backdrop on stage was 10 American flags
and a replica of the presidential seal.
Serving as host
at his presidential library, the elder Bush introduced
Romney, pointed out members of the candidate's family in the
audience and described Romney's father, former
Michigan governor George Romney, as the father of
one of my mentors when it comes to points of light,''
said Bush, who enacted a volunteer initiative while
president, called ''Thousand Points of Light.'' Bush
said he had no intention of endorsing a candidate. ''I
simply have too much respect for all of the
candidates,'' he said. He called Romney a ''good man'' and
said he considered him and his wife ''good friends.''
about faith, Romney sought to use the publicity his
speech generated to relaunch his campaign as the broader
electorate begins to tune into his nomination fight
against a field that includes former New York mayor
Rudy Giuliani and Arizona senator John McCain.
Striking a family
chord, Romney's wife of 38 years, Ann, and four of the
couple's five sons sat in the front row for the speech --
two with their own children.
''We are a long
way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the
way, but our aspirations, our values, are the selfsame as
those from the other faiths that stand upon this
common foundation,'' Romney said. ''And these
convictions will indeed inform my presidency.''
While Romney has
been subject to some leafleting and phone calling
pointing to religious differences between his faith and
others, he has faced little religious bigotry or
questions on the campaign trail. Instead, political
realities played a role in his decision to make the
In an AP-Yahoo
poll last month, half said they had some problems
supporting a Mormon presidential candidate, including one
fifth who said it would make them very uncomfortable.
of white evangelical Christians -- a major portion of
likely participants in the early GOP presidential contests
in Iowa and South Carolina -- expressed reservations
about a Mormon candidate. Among non-evangelicals 48%
said it troubled them. Almost a quarter -- 23% -- of
evangelicals said they were very uncomfortable with the
idea. (Glen Johnson, AP)