(CNSNews.com) - GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's speech Thursday on how his Mormon faith will not define his presidency received mixed reviews by religious leaders.
"I will put no doctrine of any church above the plain duties of the office and the sovereign authority of the law," said Romney. "When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I'm fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States."
A liberal religious watchdog group expressed disappointment with Romney's reference to religion's role in the country's founding.
"The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square," said Romney, adding that "during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places."
Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive of director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said in a statement: "I was disappointed in Romney's statement. The founders of our Constitution meant for religion and government to be completely separate.
"Romney is wrong when he says we are in danger of taking separation too far or at risk of establishing a religion of secularism," Lynn said. "I was particularly outraged that Romney thinks that the Constitution is somehow based on faith and that judges should rule accordingly."
"That's a gross misunderstanding of the framework of our constitutional system," he said, adding that "it is telling that Romney quoted John Adams instead of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison."
Jefferson and Madison "gave us religious liberty and church-state separation," said Lynn.
One thing that was missing from Romney's speech, according to Lynn, was the acknowledgement of those who don't follow any religion.
"I was also disappointed that Romney doesn't seem to recognize that many Americans are non-believers," said Lynn. "Polls repeatedly show that millions of people have chosen to follow no spiritual path at all. They're good Americans too, and Romney ought to have recognized that fact."
"I am an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ, and I believe in my faith," Lynn added. "But I believe just as strongly that non-believers are good Americans too. I wish Romney had said that."
One conservative evangelical, Rev. Rob Schenck, praised Romney's speech, calling it "a courageous and historic act of leadership" but adding that "evangelicals and Mormons will continue to have serious theological differences."
Schenck is chairman the Committee on Church and Society for the Evangelical Church Alliance, the nation's oldest association of Evangelical clergy, as well as president of the National Clergy Council, a network of conservative church leaders.
"In fact, I disagree strongly with some of the Governor's religious beliefs, but it's clear Mitt Romney does share with religious conservatives many of our deepest convictions on religious liberty, the critical importance of belief in God, the public role of faith, the sanctity of the traditional family and paramount moral issues," said Schenck.
"This speech should go a long way to relieve worries about Governor Romney's particular religion and church membership. In fact, the Constitution strictly forbids a religious test for office, so those specifics should be off limits," Schenck said in a statement.
Romney's speech should break down the walls that "once kept Catholics and Evangelicals from working together," he said. "Morally conservative people should be allies, not adversaries."
Meanwhile, Bill Keller, founder of liveprayer.com and the first national Christian leader to question Romney's Mormon background with his infamous "A vote for Romney is a vote for Satan" message, called the GOP candidate's speech Thursday "nothing but a big lie."
Keller said Romney's speech was deceptive and misleading. In his speech, Romney uses the words "God," "Jesus," and "The Bible," Keller said, even though the god and Jesus of the Mormon religion is not the same as the God and Jesus of the Holy Bible. Instead, Mormons believe the Bible is flawed and incomplete, Keller noted.
"I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and the savior of mankind," Romney said, adding that "each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. ... Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree."
But, Keller noted, Romney did not mention that the Mormon church believes Jesus is also the spirit brother of Lucifer and not a created being, not a deity.
If Romney wanted to be honest, he would have given his speech at the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah, instead of the George Bush Presidential Library, Keller said.
"In the end, Romney will try to demonize anyone who has the guts to hold him accountable for his deception, calling them religions bigots and other names," Keller said in a statement.
"But I refuse to be silenced since, for me, this is not - and never has been - about politics. It's about the eternal souls of men who will be lost if they follow the false teachings of a Mormon cult," he concluded.
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