PRINCETON, N.J. Voters still have to wait, perhaps indefinitely, for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to give a John F. Kennedy-style speech addressing his faith which is just fine with some religious scholars and political experts.
At a Saturday campaign event in New Hampshire, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and a Mormon, said he likes the idea of such a speech, but his advisers have warned him against it.
Meanwhile at Princeton University on Saturday, some religious scholars said such an address could help clear concerns voters have about sending a Mormon to the White House, while others said such a speech would not help much.
"Now is not the time to rock the boat," said Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor who specializes in the relationship between law and religion. He said Romney is doing well in the early voting states of New Hampshire and Iowa, and has used his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to show evangelicals and other Christian voters that they share the same basic values.
"The values of my faith flow from the Judeo-Christian heritage that we probably all share in this room, which are values of believing in God," Romney said in New Hampshire. "In the case of those that follow the Christian line of that philosophy, I believe Jesus Christ is my savior. I believe in the Bible. I believe that liberty is a gift of God and not of government. I believe in serving other people, that it's part of a religious heritage."
Romney said that he hasn't yet decided whether to give a major speech regarding his faith.
"Until that time, you'll have to rely on what you just heard," he said to applause in New Hampshire.
In New Jersey, as part of a keynote address at a two-day seminar called "Mormonism and American Politics" hosted by Princeton University's Center for the Study of Religion, Feldman said the main question is what Romney would have to say in such a speech. Because he is using his LDS faith as a way to connect with other religious voters, he is facing a different scenario than President Kennedy.
On Sept. 12, 1960, then-Sen. John Kennedy told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association that there are bigger issues facing the country than his being a Catholic. He emphasized that he did not speak for the Catholic Church on issues, and the church did not speak for him.
"I am not the Catholic candidate for president," Kennedy said. "I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president who happens also to be a Catholic."
Kennedy told the gathering he would make decisions based on what his conscience would tell him would be in the best national interest, not what outside religious pressure would dictate.
"But if the time should ever come and I do not concede any conflict to be remotely possible when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do likewise," Kennedy said.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said Romney should make the speech. He said Kennedy stressed that he would vote by his conscience, not the pope's, and Romney needs to assure people he would not be taking orders from the LDS Church.
"I believe Mitt Romney's being a Mormon is not a dealbreaker," said Land, who was named one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America in 2005 by Time magazine.
Land said some religious conservatives would vote for Romney over former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is also seeking the Republican nomination. Land said if the final election turns into a race between Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, on the Democratic ticket and Giuliani on the GOP ticket, he would have to abstain from voting because he could not vote for a pro-choice candidate, as is the case with both Clinton and Giuliani.
Francis Beckwith, an associate professor of philosophy and church-state studies at Baylor University, said that if Romney does make the speech, he needs to be careful because claiming that his religious beliefs would not influence his decision-making at all could cost him votes from those who want a president to be religious.
Romney, who ran the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, said Saturday in New Hampshire that he is "happy to answer any questions people have about my faith, and (I) do so pretty regularly."
"Is there going to be a special speech? Perhaps, at some point. I sort of like the idea myself," Romney said. "The political advisers tell me no, no, no it's not a good idea. It draws too much attention to that issue alone."
But the issue attracts attention, speech or no speech.
Sen. John McCain's 95-year-old mother made headlines Saturday when she said Mormons were to blame for the scandal surrounding 2002 Winter Games.
"As far as the Salt Lake City thing, he's a Mormon, and the Mormons of Salt Lake City had caused that scandal. And to clean that up, again, it's not a subject," said Roberta McCain said Friday on MSNBC. McCain, who is also seeking the GOP nomination, immediately responded that he did not share his mother's views on this issue.
With Romney's record of running the Olympics and the state of Massachusetts, on top of his Harvard education and business success, Feldman said the constant focus on his religion has to be galling to the candidate.
"This has got to be, has got to be, personally frustrating to him," Feldman said of the constant focus on Romney's religion. "He is the perfect candidate for this moment in time."
Feldman said if Romney loses the nomination it could be traced back to his religion, whereas if Sen. Barrack Obama, D-Ill., does not win the nomination for the Democratic ticket, it is not likely to be blamed on America not being ready for a black president.
But Time magazine national editor Amy Sullivan, who wrote about Romney's "evangelical problem" in 2005, said not enough of the country knows about Romney yet to really get a sense of whether his religion will be an issue or not."We don't know what's going to happen," Sullivan said.
Contributing: Associated Press