If Romney runs, he might consider following the example of another son of Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy, who addressed the issue of his Catholicism in a speech to the Houston Ministerial Association during the 1960 campaign. Kennedy said: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president - should he be Catholic - how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him."
In a telephone interview, Governor Romney tells me he doesn't believe religion is a factor "when people know the real individual." Asked whether he might follow Kennedy's example and make a speech about church and state, Romney says, "There may well be a time when something is said by me or something happens that crystallizes the issue for people, but I believe the people in this country subscribe to the Lincoln view that when people take the oath of office they abide by America's political religion and that they place the Constitution and the rule of law first."
The poll results may reflect attitudes toward Mormonism that are similar to what non-Catholic voters thought about Catholics four decades ago. Some may get their impressions of Mormonism from the HBO series "Big Love," about a modern polygamist and his three wives (the church banned polygamy in 1890 as a condition for Utah's admission to the Union, which took place in 1896.)
If an ambulance hits me, I care less where or how the driver worships than I do about his sense of direction to the nearest hospital. It troubles me not that a Mormon might be president. It does trouble me a great deal that so many people would think a person's faith - whether one shares it or not - should be the only reason to deny someone the presidency. Perhaps if Romney decides to run it won't matter too much of that 37 percent, anymore than it eventually did during the 1960 campaign when the issue was Catholicism.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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