At Kirkland Community College in Cedar Rapids Friday, Mitt Romney was bluntly asked by an elderly man, “Governor, your religion concerns many people, I would like to get your response.”
Romney is not the first religious Mormon to make a race for president. His father George Romney was a serious contender for the 1968 GOP nomination until he admitted to being “brainwashed” about Vietnam. Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch also briefly attempted a vanity-inspired 2000 bid. But he is the first Mormon to run into political problems because of his religion.
On Friday, Romney gave his standard answer: “First of all, I am proud of my faith, as you can imagine, and the faith of my fathers. And it informs a lot of how I live my life. But I am also an individual who believes that in this country you are not going to see people choosing their candidates by what church they go to.”
He continued, “[Lincoln] said that America should subscribe to defending the Constitution, abiding by the rule of law, abiding by the Declaration of Independence and all of its principles. And he called it by an unusual term, ‘America’s political religion.’ And I want to assure you that when I become president of the United States and I place my hand on the Bible, I believe that I am subscribing to America’s political religion.”
For months, the Romney campaign has been debating internally whether to go beyond this answer and more specifically address how Romney’s faith would shape his presidency. At issue are the concerns of many evangelical Republican voters in early states, some of whom see Mormonism as a false faith that competes with their churches for converts.
Well, now the decision has been made. A press release Sunday night announced the details: Romney will speak Thursday at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. “This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor’s own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected,” said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden.
Romney’s decision to speak in Texas is not accidental. In 1960, John Kennedy spoke before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association to explain the role of Catholicism in his life. “I am not the Catholic candidate for President,” Kennedy famously said in that address. “I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.”