- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 6, 2007

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Republican Mitt Romney, running to become the nation’s first Mormon president, declared in a speech this morning that he should not have to explain his religion, which touts itself as the world’s only true faith.

“There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution,” Mr. Romney said in remarks at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum.

VIDEO:Romney seeks religious common ground

VIDEO:In tiny Nauvoo, no big push for Romney

“No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president, he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths,” he said.

Speaking just 90 miles from where President Kennedy delivered a 1960 address two months before he became the nation’s first Catholic president, the former Massachusetts governor said that he, like JFK, will not be beholden to church elders if he becomes 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. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin. …

“When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. 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,” he said.

Mr. Romney said his situation is similar to that of JFK, who was a Massachusetts senator when elected president.

“Almost 50 years ago another candidate from Massachusetts explained that he was an American running for president, not a Catholic running for president. Like him, I am an American running for president. I do not define my candidacy by my religion. A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith.”

But the candidate made clear he will not abandon his Mormon faith to run for president, saying some critics “would prefer it if I would simply distance myself from my religion, say that it is more a tradition than my personal conviction, or disavow one or another of its precepts.”

“That I will not do. I believe in my Mormon faith and I endeavor to live by it. My faith is the faith of my fathers I will be true to them and to my beliefs,” he said.

Mr. Romney has been overtaken in the polls in Iowa, the nation’s first presidential contest, by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, once a Baptist minister. Mr. Huckabee has been endorsed by a slew of religious conservatives, and undecided evangelicals in Iowa have moved into his camp, polls show.

For months, Mr. Romney’s staff rejected the idea of the candidate delivering an address on his faith. But the governor decided to do so today, in part because surveys show up to half the electorate have problems voting for a candidate in the Mormon faith.

Mr. Romney, who has dodged questions of specific Mormon beliefs, was specific today about what he believes.

“What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church’s beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree,” he said.

The governor said that every faith “draws its adherents closer to God.”

“And in every faith I have come to know, there are features I wish were in my own: I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass, the approachability of God in the prayers of the Evangelicals, the tenderness of spirit among the Pentecostals, the confident independence of the Lutherans, the ancient traditions of the Jews, unchanged through the ages, and the commitment to frequent prayer of the Muslims.”

He said that bond -— faith — draws all believers together.

“You can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion — rather, we welcome our nation’s symphony of faith.”

Mr. Romney also said that “it is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions.”

“Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?” he said.

The governor called for greater religious thought in daily civic life, and said that nativity scenes and menorahs should remain in public places during the holiday season. He also rejected the notion that the founders sought to extinguish all religion in America as they pushed for separation of church and state.

“We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning.

“They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America — the religion of secularism. They are wrong,” he said.

“The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation ‘Under God’ and in God, we do indeed trust,” he added.

Former President George H.W. Bush introduced Mr. Romney at his library, located on the edge of the Texas A&M campus. Mr. Romney’s wife of 38 years, Ann, and four of the couple’s five sons were joining him for the speech.

In a clear appeal to social and Christian conservatives, Mr. Romney also invited James Bopp Jr., an anti-abortion activist who is Romney’s special adviser on life issues, and Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, to be his guests at the speech.

“Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests, said Mr. Romney, who was once pro— choice but has changed his view on abortion and now says he favors overturning the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

Mr Romney has been subject to “push— polling” in the nation’s early presidential contests in which potential voters received phone calls pointing to religious differences between his faith and others.

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.

Fifty— six percent 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 percent said it troubled them. Almost a quarter — 23 percent — of evangelicals said they were very uncomfortable with the idea.

There has been little apparent shift in public attitudes over the past four decades toward a possible Mormon candidacy, according to Gallup polling.

A USA Today— Gallup Poll last February showed 24 percent said they would not vote for a well— qualified candidate chosen by their party if the person was a Mormon. Four percent said they were unsure.

In April 1967 — when Romney’s father, George Romney, was running for president — the result was similar. Then, 17 percent said they would not vote for a Mormon candidate and 8 percent expressed uncertainty.

One other Mormon has run for president — Joseph Smith, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter— day Saints, sought the office in the 1840s.

]]>