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Romney to address his Mormon faith in speech

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  • Romney to speak Thursday at George H. W. Bush library in Texas
  • Romney has been looking to reassure evangelicals
  • 50 percent of Americans consider Mormons to be Christians, poll shows
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney will attempt to reassure voters about his Mormon faith during a speech in Texas this week, the former Massachusetts governor's campaign has announced.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney will talk about his Mormon religion in a speech Thursday.

"Governor Romney understands that faith is an important issue to many Americans, and he personally feels this moment is the right moment for him to share his views with the nation," campaign spokesman Kevin Madden said in a written statement.

Romney's speech, titled "Faith in America," is scheduled for Thursday at former President George H. W. Bush's presidential library in College Station, Texas. But Madden said the invitation "is not an endorsement of Governor Romney's campaign" by the former president.

"This speech is an opportunity for Governor Romney to share his views on religious liberty, the grand tradition religious tolerance has played in the progress of our nation and how the governor's own faith would inform his presidency if he were elected," Madden said.

The topic evokes John F. Kennedy's speech to Southern Baptist leaders in Houston in 1960, when the man who would become the first Roman Catholic president told ministers, "I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me."

The Constitution bars any religious test for public office. But evangelical Christians are a major GOP voting bloc and make up a significant portion of Republican primary voters in South Carolina, a key early contest in 2008.

Romney has tried to allay their concerns over his Mormonism by emphasizing shared values such as opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. In October, he won the endorsement of the chancellor of South Carolina's fundamentalist Bob Jones University, Bob Jones III -- who once described Mormonism and Catholicism as "cults which call themselves Christian."

The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims about 12 million adherents worldwide, roughly half of them in the United States. Followers consider themselves Christians, but elements of Mormon theology -- that the Garden of Eden was located in what is now Missouri, that a lost tribe of Israelites settled in North America and that a resurrected Jesus Christ visited them -- differ sharply from orthodox Christian belief.

The church was founded in the 1830s by Joseph Smith of upstate New York, who recounted what he called the revelations of an angel in the Book of Mormon. The church's early belief in polygamy fueled its persecution as followers migrated across the United States, but church leaders renounced the practice in 1890.

A CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll in October found that 50 percent of Americans consider Mormons to be Christians, with 41 percent disagreeing. But only 19 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon for president, and 77 percent said the issue would make no difference. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.

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