Romney Delivers Major Speech on Faith

Romney delivers a major speech on faith.

ByABC News
December 5, 2007, 11:37 PM

Dec. 6, 2007 — -- In arguably the most important speech of his campaign, Republican presidential candidate former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., sought to address voters' skepticism about his Mormon faith Thursday in College Station, Texas.

"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," Romney said a crowd of 400 to 500 people at the George H.W. Bush Library at Texas A&M University.

With some voters suggesting they have qualms about a Mormon president, Romney said he shares "moral convictions" with Americans of all faiths.

"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."

Nonetheless, he said his faith doesn't define his candidacy.

"A person should not be elected because of his faith, nor should he be rejected because of his faith." Romney said.

"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," Romney said.

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."

Romney took a hard line on questions about the doctrines of his religion, stating, "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."

For the Romney-friendly audience, the most enthusiastic response came when Romney praised the founding fathers: "And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God they founded this great nation."

While Romney had underscored that he's "not gonna be giving a JFK speech," some of the speech seemed to echo the sentiment laid down by President Kennedy, and Presidents Lincoln and Jefferson before him.

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

As he has done many times before on the stump, Romney reiterated that "no candidate should become a spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes president he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths."

Notably, Romney stated today that his "church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths."

While not contradictory, Romney has previously focused on his claim that religions in American flow from the same "Judeo-Christian" tradition, rather than cite the differences of his church.

Some criticized Romney for trying to tie his Mormon religion too closely to that of evangelicals and other Christians.

Romney also sought to emphasize the "nation's symphony of faith," and assured "any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me."

Some of Romney's political rivals reacted to Romney's decision to address his Mormon faith. Rep. Ron Paul, R-Tex., a Republican candidate, argued Romney's faith shouldn't be an issue.

"The recent attacks and insinuations, both direct and subtle, that Gov. Romney may be less fit to serve as president of our United States because of his faith fly in the face of everything America stands for," Paul said in a statement Thursday. "Gov. Romney should be judged fairly, on his record and his character, not on the church he attends."

GOP candidate former Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., has said he would wait to hear the speech before reacting.

However his South Carolina state campaign co-chair, Cyndi Mosteller said the speech won't answer questions about the tenets of Mormonism that are "very unusual to the point that it's almost unbelievable."

She cited in particular "the Church's history, and almost theology, on the issue of race -- particularly the black race."

Less than a month ago, Romney brushed off questions of giving a speech on his religion. At a campaign stop in Laconia, N.H., Romney said, "There's really not a need to [give a speech] right now."

Romney argued that "we're doing real well in the states that we talk to," referencing the much-visited early primary or caucus states, "and the people they don't care about a religion issue."

At that point, Romney enjoyed a significant lead in the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Romney's inspiration for the speech likely comes from a number of different sources. As he said Monday, "I've gotten a lot of unsolicited advice from folks from time to time."