Gingrich and Santorum: Religious Faith of a Candidate Matters

By Matt Cover | October 19, 2011 | 5:37pm EDT

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who are seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said at Tuesday night's CNN-Western Republican Leadership Conference debate in Las Vegas that the religious faith of a candidate matters.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.) and GOP presidential contender at the Oct. 18 debate in Las Vegas, Nev. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Anderson Cooper asked the candidates: “Should voters pay attention to a candidate’s religion?” Santorum was first to answer.

“I think they should pay attention to the candidate's values, what the candidate stands for,” he said. “That's what is at play. And the person's faith--and you look at that faith and what the faith teaches with respect to morals and values that are reflected in that person's belief structure.

“I'm a Catholic," Santorum continued. "[The] Catholic [church] has social teachings. [The] Catholic church has teachings as to what's right and what's wrong. And those are legitimate things for voters to look at, to say if you're a faithful Catholic, which I try to be--fall short all the time, but I try to be--and it's a legitimate thing to look at as to what the tenets and teachings of that faith are with respect to how you live your life and how you would govern this country.

“With respect to what is the road to salvation, that's a whole different story,” said Santorum. “That's not applicable to what--what the role is of being the president or a senator or any other job.”

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CNN’s Cooper then asked Gingrich, “You agree with that?”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and GOP presidential contender at the Oct. 18, 2011 debate in Law Vegas, Nev. (AP Photo.)

“Well, I think if the question is: Does faith matter? Absolutely,” said Gingrich. “How can you have a country which is founded on truths which begin, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights? How can you have the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 which says religion, morality and knowledge being important, education matters. That's the order: religion, morality and knowledge.”

“Now, I happen to think that none of us should rush in judgment of others in the way in which they approach God,” said the former speaker. “And I think that all of us up here, I believe, would agree.”

A candidate who claimed that religion would have no impact on them once in office was not to be trusted, Gingrich said, asking how such a candidate could make difficult decisions.

“But I think all of us would also agree that there's a very central part of your faith in how you approach public life,” said Gingrich. “And I, frankly, would be really worried if somebody assured me that nothing in their faith would affect their judgments, because then I'd wonder, where's your judgment? How can you have judgment, if you have no faith? And how can I trust you with power if you don't pray?”

Gingrich said that how a candidate practices his faith is a personal matter that voters should not examine, adding that while some aspects of faith are personal, America’s founding values make having religious faith a necessity.

“Who you pray to, how you pray, how you come close to God is between you and God,” said Gingrich. “But the notion that you're endowed by your Creator sets a certain boundary on what we mean by America.”

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