A sampling of Utah Latter-day Saints gave Mitt Romney's speech on faith high marks, saying there were no surprises and said they were curious to see what impact it will have on his candidacy.
LDS Church spokesman Scott Trotter said the church's only response to Romney's speech, issued after the speech, is a reaffirmation of the church's position of political neutrality. "The church's neutrality in matters of party politics applies in all of the many nations in which it is established," the statement says.
"I was really impressed with his honesty," said Valerie Pingree, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, graduating from George Washington University with a degree in international relations. She and husband Scott lived in Boston during Romney's tenure as governor and only recently moved to Utah. "I think it was perfect. He addressed the issues.
"I was especially impressed with his historical perspective and the reminder of the connection with religion and freedom.
"He explained the basic tenets of his faith in a way that are the same that the Founding Fathers drew upon."
She said she was not surprised when Romney called radical Islam dangerous his mention of the frequency of prayer among Muslims showed he was separating the qualities of Islam from the dangers of extremists. Mormons need the benefit of the same distinction, she said.
Pingree characterized the need for Romney's speech as a "distraction," wondering whether other candidates will have to follow suit to explain things that make them personally unique, "but I guess that's where we are right now."
"It's a shame he had to explain his religion. I hope that this will kind of put those concerns aside and let people say, 'Let's look at his record; let's look at his life and let that decide who we're going to vote for."'
Paul Mero, whose Latter-day Saint values play out professionally in his job as president of conservative political advocacy group the Sutherland Institute, agreed Romney was pressured into giving Thursday's speech but said he "hit a grand slam."
"The Kennedy speech was a hard act to follow. While Governor Romney followed the Kennedy format, he ably added to it to the point that every other candidate will now feel obliged to express their faith. He did a remarkable job of turning the tables on his opponents.
"Now, his opponents who have run from faith issues will now have to embrace them and, frankly, most of them will sound silly when doing so."
Marlene Hill, a Utah native who has raised six children, said she was glad to see Romney emphasize that the doctrines of his church would not affect his role as president.
"I liked the fact he said he would not abandon his beliefs as president and that he would adhere to the oath he took," she said. "A 'symphony of faith' that we could all get along together and have that work. I like the fact he said too we should not abandon religion in our public squares."
She also said it was "appropriate" that he pointed out problems caused by religious extremism and was not taken aback when he characterized radical Islam as dangerous. "He was not attacking Muslims as a whole but rather extremists, and I agree with that."
Brigham Young University law professor Lynn Wardle tuned in to Romney's speech as a Romney supporter and as a supporter of fellow GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
"Huckabee is probably the main reason (Romney) is giving this speech at this time," Wardle said. Wardle has questions about the timing and setting of Romney's speech but said he would give the remarks themselves an "A." With that in mind, "I thought both the Kennedy speech and the Romney speech were excellent for their purpose."
"I don't think it will appease his critics. I think people who, for doctrinal or dogmatic reasons, oppose him will continue to do so. But I don't think that's the audience he was trying to reach," Wardle said.
Whether other candidates will follow with similarly motivated speeches depends on the reaction that accumulates from Romney's speech. If Romney's speech is characterized as positive, even "presidential," other candidates are likely to follow. "If it's a big yawner, if nobody cares or is negative, then they won't."
Wardle said he was surprised that, given frequent misconceptions about Mormons, Romney didn't talk more specifically about particulars of his faith; but Wardle believes Romney might have taken the better approach. "His point was, 'Religious doctrines aren't the issue. They shouldn't be the issue, and I'm not going to let them be the issue.' I think that's the right message."
The Deseret Morning News invited leaders from Catholic, Jewish and Protestant faiths in Utah to comment on Romney's speech, though none had responded. Several said the time of day that Romney's speech took place conflicted with other commitments, delaying their opportunity to digest his remarks and offer a reaction.
In its statement posted at lds.org, the LDS Church acknowledged it has had many requests for information about its political position. "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today re-emphasized its long-standing position of party political neutrality in response to a large number of calls from the news media over the past few days.
"The church's mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The church's neutrality in matters of party politics applies in all of the many nations in which it is established."
The statement continues with an outline of the church's counsel to its members to be politically active and restates its relationship with governments."Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated church position. While the church may communicate its views with them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent."
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