Are “unacceptable religions” fatal for U.S. presidential candidates?

In their new book "The Presidents & Their Faith: From George Washington to Barack Obama," university professors Steve Shaw and Darrin Grinder say Americans take nominees' religious faith very seriously

Is there an unwritten religious litmus test for the U.S. presidency? Do voters require candidates to be “not just religious, but acceptably religious”? Yes, say Northwest Nazarene University professors Steve Shaw and Darrin Grinder.

"Al Smith's cabinet" cartoon shows Smith as waiter to Pope, cardinals in the White House

If they are right, will Mitt Romney’s Mormonism doom his bid for the presidency? After all, Catholicism was blamed for New York Gov. Al Smith’s loss to Herbert Hoover in 1928. Smith was denounced by vocal Southern Baptists and German Lutherans who were convinced he would take orders from the Vatican.

Such fears prompted John F. Kennedy to make a historic Sept. 12, 1960, speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. He pledged he would resign if faced with a conflict between the Constitution and his beliefs.

John F. Kennedy made no attempt to hide his faith

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It was speculated that Romney might make a similar declaration in his address to the late Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University commencement crowd on May 13, but he did not.

A “lingering suspicion among evangelicals — a key Republican constituency — about Romney’s Mormon faith,” writes David Gibson of the Religious News Service, “has led some to suggest that Romney needs to make a speech about his Mormonism along the lines of John F. Kennedy’s defense of his Catholicism to Protestant leaders during the 1960 campaign. So could Romney pull a Kennedy? Should he?”

Mike Huckabee, a Southern Baptist minister who sought the GOP nomination in 2008, told Fox News after Romney lost the 2011 South Carolina primary it was time for Romney to address his Mormonism – that such a speech would “sort of dismiss it, make it less important.”

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Rob Kerby, Senior Editor
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