Romney: I "Serve No One Religion"

Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gestures during his address entitled, "Faith in America," Thursday, Dec. 6, 2007, at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
Republican Mitt Romney, confronting voters' skepticism about his Mormon faith, declared Thursday 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 Mormon president. (Read the text of the speech)

"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 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.

"It's important to remember that Romney's aims today are different than those of John F. Kennedy when he delivered his landmark speech on the same topic in 1960," said senior political analyst Vaughn Ververs. "Kennedy was seeking to reassure voters during a general election that he would separate his Catholic faith from the presidency. Romney needs to reassure evangelical Christians that he shares their values."

"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."

Romney's speech 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." Romney opted to make the speech in defiance of his own staff, CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker reports.

He hoped the speech would allay concerns of Christian conservatives, some of whom have propelled former Arkansas Gov. 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 Christ.

"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."

Read The Text Of Romney's Speech
Romney's Speech: Heavy On History, Light On Mormonism
Read More About JFK's Speech In 1960

Illustrating 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 & 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.