What happened
Mitt Romney delivered the biggest speech of his presidential campaign on Thursday, declaring his views on religion in a long-anticipated attempt to dispel the concerns of evangelical Christians about his Mormon faith. Romney declared that “freedom requires religion,” but said the leaders of his church would not influence his actions in the Oval Office. (The Boston Globe, free registratio)

What the commentators said
Romney had to give this speech, said Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal, and he did “very, very well.” His main triumph was bringing the objections of the “foes of his faith” into the open, and forcing them to “defend their thinking, in public.” How can they counter his “high-minded arguments? ‘Mormons have cooties?’”

“Romney’s job yesterday was to unite social conservatives behind him,” said David Brooks in The New York Times (free registration). If he won converts, he did it by encouraging religious conservatives to “stick stubbornly” to their beliefs and keep “God-talk in the public square.” This was a call for “solidarity in a culture war without end.”

The real reason for giving the speech now was to slow the momentum of rival Mike Huckabee by becoming the biggest news story ahead of January’s Iowa caucuses, said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post (free registration). Romney avoided the specifics of his Mormon beliefs, and instead argued “that Mormonism reinforces basic American values.” Romney rose to a tremendous challenge, and his speech deserves to be read next to John F. Kennedy’s definitive address on religion in politics

Romney is “no Jack Kennedy,” said David Kusnet in The New Republic Online. He “reversed Kennedy's ringing affirmation of the American traditions of religious tolerance and the separation of church and state.” He said it was appropriate to ask candidates what they believed about Jesus Christ—saying, of course, that he believed that Jesus was “the Savior of Mankind.” That puts him “in stark opposition to the Constitution's forbiddance of religious tests for public office."