Romney Skirts JFK Tack on Religion; '60 Precedent Eyed for Mormon

Article excerpt

Byline: Julia Duin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Observers of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney have been awaiting "the speech" - the one that's going to settle once and for all his intent that his Mormon beliefs would not interfere with his leading the country.

The situation has been compared with that of John F. Kennedy, the first Catholic president, who on Sept. 12, 1960, wowed the Greater Houston Ministerial Association with an assurance that Rome would not dictate his actions.

Back then, mainline Protestants made up the most unified religious force in American politics. Today, it's evangelical Christians, who are one-quarter of the electorate.

"Evangelical Christians have heard from their leaders that the Mormon Church is a cult," said John Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum. "If you look at the poll numbers, Romney faces a challenge in that a significant minority of Americans are skeptical of voting for a Mormon candidate. Certainly, that is a challenge the campaign would want to meet."

However, Mr. Romney has passed up several opportunities to address the issue, including his May 5 commencement address at Regent University in Virginia Beach, a citadel of evangelical piety.

Last year, he turned down an invitation to address the topic in Salt Lake City during an annual gathering of the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA), an organization of 300 religion specialists in the secular press.

Last week, his campaign turned down a second invitation to speak at an RNA gathering later this month in San Antonio.

It brings up the question of whether such a speech is needed. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says it might help.

"I'd like to see every candidate address the church-state issue with some specificity," he said, "but just because someone is a member of a minority religion, he is under no obligation to do so. …