The following is a transcript (as prepared for delivery) of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's speech "Faith in America," delivered Thursday at the George Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas. Romney discussed his views on religious liberty, religious tolerance and how faith would inform his presidency. The speech begins with Romney addressing former President George H.W. Bush, who introduced the former governor.
Romney: Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind introduction.
"It is an honor to be here today. This is an inspiring place because of you and the first lady, and because of the film exhibited across the way in the Presidential library. For those who have not seen it, it shows the President as a young pilot, shot down during the Second World War, being rescued from his life-raft by the crew of an American submarine. It is a moving reminder that when America has faced challenge and peril, Americans rise to the occasion, willing to risk their very lives to defend freedom and preserve our nation. We are in your debt. Thank you, Mr. President.
"Mr. President, your generation rose to the occasion, first to defeat Fascism and then to vanquish the Soviet Union. You left us, your children, a free and strong America. It is why we call yours the greatest generation. It is now my generation's turn. How we respond to today's challenges will define our generation. And it will determine what kind of America we will leave our children, and theirs.
"America faces a new generation of challenges. Radical violent Islam seeks to destroy us. An emerging China endeavors to surpass our economic leadership. And we are troubled at home by government overspending, overuse of foreign oil, and the breakdown of the family.
"Over the last year, we have embarked on a national debate on how best to preserve American leadership. Today, I wish to address a topic which I believe is fundamental to America's greatness: our religious liberty. I will also offer perspectives on how my own faith would inform my presidency, if I were elected.
"There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'
"Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.
"Given our grand tradition of religious tolerance and liberty, some wonder whether there are any questions regarding an aspiring candidate's religion that are appropriate. I believe there are. And I will answer them today.
"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.
"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.
"As governor, I tried to do the right as best I knew it, serving the law and answering to the Constitution. I did not confuse the particular teachings of my church with the obligations of the office and of the Constitution - and of course, I would not do so as president. I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law.
"As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America's 'political religion' - the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. 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.
"There are some for whom these commitments are not enough. They 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.
"Some believe that such a confession of my faith will sink my candidacy. If they are right, so be it. But I think they underestimate the American people. Americans do not respect believers of convenience.
Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.
"There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. 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.
"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. 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.
"I believe that every faith I have encountered 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. As I travel across the country and see our towns and cities, I am always moved by the many houses of worship with their steeples, all pointing to heaven, reminding us of the source of life's blessings.
"It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter - on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.
"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.
"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.
"We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'
"Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. 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?
"They are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common. They are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.
"We believe that every single human being is a child of God - we are all part of the human family. The conviction of the inherent and inalienable worth of every life is still the most revolutionary political proposition ever advanced. John Adams put it that we are 'thrown into the world all equal and alike.'
"The consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another, to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God. It is an obligation which is fulfilled by Americans every day, here and across the globe, without regard to creed or race or nationality.
"Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that Century's terrible wars - no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty. America's resolve in the defense of liberty has been tested time and again. It has not been found wanting, nor must it ever be. America must never falter in holding high the banner of freedom.
"These American values, this great moral heritage, is shared and lived in my religion as it is in yours. I was taught in my home to honor God and love my neighbor. I saw my father march with Martin Luther King. I saw my parents provide compassionate care to others, in personal ways to people nearby, and in just as consequential ways in leading national volunteer movements. I am moved by the Lord's words: 'For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me...'
"My faith is grounded on these truths. You can witness them in Ann and my marriage and in our family. We are a long way from perfect and we have surely stumbled along the way, but our aspirations, our values, are the self-same as those from the other faiths that stand upon this common foundation. And these convictions will indeed inform my presidency.
"Today's generations of Americans have always known religious liberty. Perhaps we forget the long and arduous path our nation's forbearers took to achieve it. They came here from England to seek freedom of religion. But upon finding it for themselves, they at first denied it to others. Because of their diverse beliefs, Ann Hutchinson was exiled from Massachusetts Bay, a banished Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, and two centuries later, Brigham Young set out for the West. Americans were unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths. In this, they were very much like those of the European nations they had left.
"It was in Philadelphia that our founding fathers defined a revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self evident truths about the equality of all, and the inalienable rights with which each is endowed by his Creator.
"We cherish these sacred rights, and secure them in our Constitutional order. Foremost do we protect religious liberty, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of right. There will be no established church, and we are guaranteed the free exercise of our religion.
"I'm not sure that we fully appreciate the profound implications of our tradition of religious liberty. I have visited many of the magnificent cathedrals in Europe. They are so inspired . so grand . so empty. Raised up over generations, long ago, so many of the cathedrals now stand as the postcard backdrop to societies just too busy or too 'enlightened' to venture inside and kneel in prayer. The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.
"Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom... killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.
The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be destroyed.
In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And 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.
Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray. But there were objections. They were too divided in religious sentiments, what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.
Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot. And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God, they founded this great nation.
In that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine author of liberty. And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed with freedom's holy light.
God bless this great land, the United States of America.
Mitt Romney’s conflicts with the Kennedy family go back well before comparisons of his religious speech to John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech in Dallas, where he addressed a group of Baptists on the topic of church and state. In the early 1990s, when Romney challenged Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy for his Senate seat, the issue of religion came up. The Boston Globe ran a piece on November 14, 1993—introducing Romney the politician to Massachusetts. His Mormon faith received only cursory attention within a larger biographical context. But as the Senate race heated up, Romney’s faith received increasing notice, and the first of many comparisons to the senator’s brother, John Fitzgerald, appeared in the press. In a May 22, 1994, Boston Globe article, John Aloysius Farrell discussed “The Mormon factor; Like JFK three decades ago, Mitt Romney has to overcome religious prejudice.” Another story appeared in the Globe on the same day by Frank Phillips and Don Aucoin.
The 1994 Senate race provided a window into some of the challenges Romney would face in the 2008 presidential campaign. Back then, the press was largely sympathetic to Romney’s dilemma as a Mormon candidate in a politically liberal state—reporters cast him as part of a religious minority and took exception to some of the blistering remarks by Ted Kennedy’s campaign surrogates and tactics that painted him as a zealous adherent of a nefarious sect. Yet it was the press that, even while defending Romney, were reminding voters of an aspect of Romney’s personal life he may have wished would stay relegated to offstage.
In the lead-up to Romney’s formal announcement for president, the press was already vetting him. Just one month after the Globe reported that Romney had acknowledged he was thinking about running for president, an article appeared in the same paper on July 21, 2005, entitled “Are we ready for a Mormon president?” Like much of the coverage from the 1994 race, the article defended Romney and critiqued attacks by liberals on the controversial or “exotic” elements of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
On February 13, 2007, when he entered the race, a spate of stories addressed the issue of his faith head-on. USA Today ran a page-one story that day entitled “Will Mormon faith hurt bid for White House? Mitt Romney says his religion isn’t a factor, but some voters say it is.” However on the day after his announcement, a number of major national and regional papers ran stories focusing more on the challenge Romney would face in convincing the party faithful of his conservative credentials than of the orthodoxy of the LDS church, although almost all dealt with the latter subject, framing it as more an obstacle than a boon to his candidacy. On February 14, 2007, Dallas Morning News columnist Carl Leubsdorf asked “Can Romney win? About-face on social issues may be his biggest hurdle.” On the same day, The Star Ledger (Newark, NJ) ran a story about his announcement that only once briefly mentioned his Mormon faith and did not even address the challenge his faith would pose to voters. If there was any heavy scrutiny toward Romney’s religion on the day after he announced, it was more likely to be found in the pages of the international press than domestic (one notable exception being The New York Daily News, whose headline read “Romney Sez: Make Me 1st Mormon Prez”).
In choosing the Dearborn, MI, location for his announcement speech, flanked by his spouse and children, and in framing his candidacy as an entrepreneur seeking to change Washington politics, Romney was able to stave off the questions about his faith for the moment. But on February 15, 2007, the editorial pages began to sound off: Los Angeles Times writer Zev Chafets denounced anyone who would attack Romney on the basis of his religion: “His opponents need to make that case, however, without relying on spurious charges of bigotry by association or ugly whispers about his religious affiliation. That sort of thing was supposed to have been settled by the election of John F. Kennedy back in 1960.”
Robert Novak, while not the first journalist to discuss a Romney speech on faith akin to JFK’s 1960 address, did argue that it was wise for Romney to avoid such an address in a Chicago Sun-Times editorial on April 27, 2006: “Romney wisely has no intention of lecturing America on Mormon theology. Rather, he cites the 1838 speech in Springfield, Ill., by the young Abraham Lincoln, in which he said, “Let reverence for the laws . . . become the political religion of the nation.” In other words, religion should not make that much difference in America.” But Novak, in a prescient if ominous prediction, warned that Romney would be forced to give just such a speech down the road: “The intense reaction Romney will meet almost surely will require a stronger response than he now envisions. He has supporters who believe that he must go before the public and declare that the imposition of a religious test on U.S. politics is unfair, unreasonable and un-American.”
Days later (May 3, 2006), the Boston Herald printed a page-two article on a story first picked up by US News & World Report, “Mormon Mitt must faith facts; Eyes JFK-style speech on his religious beliefs.” In it, while not directly quoting Romney as saying he would have to give a speech, the story implies that on May 2—he made just such a statement. The US News article appeared in the May 8 edition, but was printed earlier and actually broke the story. Its author made the link to Kennedy in a not-so-subtle way: “Now, 46 years later, Massachusetts has coughed up another presidential hopeful who belongs to what some see as a weird religion—the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And the candidate, Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, plans to copy, almost exactly, JFK’s winning approach.” Both the Sun-Times and the US News & World Report stories appeared within days of each other, and were the first papers to report on a possible Kennedy-esque speech on religion. The Orlando Sentinel also picked up the story the next day, May 4.
Increasingly, the press began to speculate about Romney giving a Kennedy-style speech. The speculation was coupled with reports of Romney’s meetings with key evangelical representatives and other efforts to appease a critical group that could be skeptical of a Mormon in the White House (The Christian Science Monitor, January 22, 2007, The New York Times, February 8, 2007 and the Arizona Republic, February 28, 2007). The Christian Science Monitor’s January 22 edition asserted in an editorial that “Just as John Kennedy had to allay public fears of his relationship to the Roman Catholic Church, so Romney is being encouraged to give a speech about his relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” A tough analogy for any candidate to live up to, Kennedy’s 1960 speech had been held up as the gold standard—a brilliant piece of presidential campaigning that would be hard for anyone to eclipse. But clearly, by this time, the pressure was on for Romney to address the nation in a similar fashion.
By July, papers were quoting Romney directly on the possibility of such a speech. “I have thought about that,” Romney told the Associated Press on Thursday, July 26, 2007. “I haven’t made a final decision, but it’s probably more likely than not.” But over time, the media would report more frequently that “advisers” and “observers” were making the case that he should give such a speech. The Philadelphia Daily News editorialized that “strategists have reached for the obvious analogy. Romney, they say, should make a speech confronting the questions about his religion like the one Kennedy made to Baptist ministers in Houston soon after he won the Democratic nomination.” The same piece was one of the first to speculate on the crucial differences, though, between Kennedy’s speech and what Romney’s might look like: “If they (Romney’s advisers) were to read that speech again, they might reconsider. Kennedy arranged his talk around the rhetorical device of “the America I believe in,” but his America is substantially different from the one that Mitt Romney and his would-be constituency has been working to establish.”
Finally, after months of speculation and little direct confirmation by either Romney or his campaign, a story broke in The Boston Globe (February 27, 2007) after the paper obtained a 77-slide PowerPoint presentation prepared by his strategists. The presentation addressed how Romney’s Mormon faith could pose a problem for the campaign: “It (the presentation) also suggests Romney might soon need to address the issue head-on, perhaps as John F. Kennedy did in a 1960 speech amid concerns about his relationship to the Catholic Church” reported the Globe. The slideshow was dated from December 11, 2006. The Houston Chronicle picked up the story the following day, also mentioning the potential site for a potential speech, as did the Hartford Courant the following week, on March 4, 2007.
On October 4, 2007, evangelical leader James Dobson announced that he, along with a group of other prominent evangelicals, may resort to supporting a minor third-party candidate if the GOP failed to nominate one conservative enough. The Boston Globe, in a front-page article the following day, quoted Richard Land, who said he’d advised Romney in 2006 to give a JFK-style speech. “Land said he told Romney: “You can close that deal. You need to do what John Kennedy did, you need to defend the right to run.””
The calls for Romney to deliver a speech started to snowball, to the point where, in the following week, The Boston Globe reported on a National Journal survey of prominent Republicans, 59% of whom agreed that Romney should give a speech addressing his faith. By early November, the Los Angeles Times was reporting that “Romney has mused about making such a speech, and most analysts expect him to do so at some point.” Even so, Romney himself had meant it when he said he wasn’t decided on what to do. On Nov. 11, 2007, Newsday quoted Romney as saying “The political advisers tell me no, no, no—it’s not a good idea. It draws too much attention to that issue alone.” Back and forth it went, though, and like many other editorials, the Dallas Morning News on November 30, 2007 declared that it was “Time to Channel JFK: Romney would be wise to give speech on his faith.” Three days later, The Washington Post reported that the Romney campaign had officially decided he would give a speech entitled “Faith in America.” The article was a brief piece of straight reporting, appearing on Page 4. There were a number of news reports on December 3, 2008, about the Romney’s decision. From the statement prepared by his campaign, the speech would be framed as a defense of religious and civil liberty.
“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,” according to the statement. “Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation,” read the statement.
But regardless of how the campaign tried to frame the speech, the press already had their story, even before it was delivered. On December 4, 2007, The Globe ran a piece entitled “JFK’s words were a turning point,” that analyzed—from hindsight—the ways in which this was true, and applied the Kennedy principle to Romney.
By and large, the media viewed Romney’s timing as a response to his competitor Mike Huckabee’s rise in the polls, and the challenge he would face among evangelical voters in the upcoming Iowa caucuses. The Tampa Tribune on December 5, 2007, attributed the speech timing to Huckabee’s recent appeal among conservative voters. The Grand Rapids Press on December 3, 2007, did too: “The decision, made after months of debate at his Boston headquarters over whether to make a public address about his religion, comes as the former Massachusetts governor’s bid is threatened in Iowa by underdog Mike Huckabee. The ex-governor of Arkansas and one-time Southern Baptist minister has rallied influential Christian conservatives to erase Romney’s months-long lead and turn the race into a deadheat.” A poll released in The Des Moines Register also on the 3rd showed Huckabee surpassing Romney for the first time, and on the eve of the Iowa caucuses.
Some of the first news reporting following Romney’s December 6 speech was deeply sympathetic: “It’s hard not to be impressed with the speech former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney gave Thursday on faith and religion,” reported USA Today on December 7, 2007. Marc Caputo of the Miami Herald praised the speech in an analysis on the same day, “If giving the speech were like singing in a choir, then Romney hit all the right notes.” A few other outlets, including the New York Post (“Failed Bid to put the Religion Issue to Rest”) were not as kind. In the weeks that followed, some papers—especially in their op-ed pages—used the Kennedy comparison to critique Romney (see Maureen Dowd’s New York Times column, “Mitt’s no JFK”, from December 9, 2007).
While there was no consensus among the media on what Romney’s speech accomplished, in general, more questions were raised than were put to rest. On January 3, 2008, Huckabee won soundly in Iowa, a surprising victory that marked the beginning of the end for Romney, who exited the race in February. For Democrats, though, Iowa had its share of surprises as well, with Obama demonstrating that he was a strong competitor for the nomination even then.
As if to hand off the baton, a January 9, 2008 editorial in the New York Times entitled “A Tale of Two Speeches,” compared Obama’s post-Iowa victory speech with Romney’s speech in Texas the month before. “Obama’s, which (referenced race), was a success, while Romney’s was decidedly not,” wrote Tim Rutten. Within a few months, the attention would be placed on Obama again, also for a speech—one that would draw more attention to his faith, race and ethnicity than had occurred in the campaign to date.