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Mitt Romney vs. Mormon critic Bryan Fischer: Showdown Saturday?

Published: Friday, Oct. 7 2011 2:59 p.m. MDT

Mitt Romney (Associated Press) Mitt Romney (Associated Press)

If college football and baseball playoffs aren't enough to satisfy your appetite for confrontation Saturday, tune in to the annual Values Voters Summit in Washington, D.C., over the weekend.

Things could get interesting.

The New York Times political blog "The Caucus" noted that Mitt Romney is joining the other major Republican presidential candidates at the summit, sponsored by the Family Research Council, the American Family Association and several other evangelical Christian groups. The purpose of the summit, according to the Times, is "to energize social conservatives and test the fidelity of the candidates."

Conference planners have scheduled Romney to speak right before Bryan Fischer, the spokesman for the American Family Association and who the Times said "is known for his strident remarks on homosexuality, gay rights, Muslims and Mormons."

Fischer claims that First Amendment protections of religious freedom do not apply to "non-Christian religions," a category in which he includes The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, asserting that it is "very clear that the Founding Fathers did not intend to preserve automatically religious liberty for non-Christian faiths."

Latter-day Saints worship Christ, as the church's full name denotes.

So the Times found it noteworthy that Romney, a Latter-day Saint, has been asked to speak right before Fischer, someone who doesn't think he is entitled to religious freedom. And an organization called People for the American Way think Romney and others should say something about it.

The organization is calling on Republican presidential candidates to "denounce Bryan Fischer's long history of unmitigated bigotry."

The organization says it is focusing its attention on Romney because he will be speaking right before Fischer Saturday morning.

"Our efforts in the past to get someone — anyone — within the GOP or religious right to condemn Fischer's relentless bigotry have not amounted to much, mainly because nobody within the movement seems to be particularly bothered by it," Kyle Mantyla writes on the PFTAW website. "But we wonder if Mitt Romney might finally raise some objections to sharing the stage with someone who openly declared just earlier this week that the First Amendment does not apply to Mormons and asserts that the LDS Church still supports polygamy."

The church does not support polygamy.

Will Romney take advantage of his opportunity to denounce Fisher?

Not a chance, says LDS Church member Joanna Brooks in her regular Religion Dispatches blog post.

"It's a marvelous image," Brooks writes. "A strong-jawed Mitt Romney acting all presidential, crossing the stage and quietly holding Bryan Fisher accountable for his rancid bigotry, not only against Mormons, but against all Americans who are non-white, non-straight or non-Christian (as Fischer defines it).

"But it will never happen."

Brooks lists four reasons why she is confident that he won't. First, she says, "it's Mitt Romney. Ideological firmness? Not in the Romney playbook . . . Mitt would mow Bryan Fischer's lawn every Saturday morning if he thought it would help him win Iowa."

Second, Brooks says "Mormons tend to be pragmatic about our interactions with non-Mormons who antagonize us." Third, she cites the 2008 Proposition 8 campaign in California as an example that "Mormons have a history of political collaboration with openly anti-Mormon evangelical Christians." And finally, she points out that "direct confrontation is not customarily a Mormon thing."

Consequently, Brooks concludes, "Mitt Romney is going to look Bryan Fischer in the eyes and give him a handshake and a smile. If he's feeling really passive-aggressive, maybe he'll have Ann Romney come onstage and pass Fischer a plate of home-baked cookies. And if things get really heated, maybe Romney will love-bomb Fischer by sending a thousand free copies of the Book of Mormon to his radio studio."

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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