Mitt Romney called on Rick Perry to disavow remarks from a pastor who endorsed his candidacy linking Mormonism to a "cult," saying such attacks have "[no] place in this country."
Romney's first direct response to comments from Pastor Robert Jeffress at the Values Voter Summit in Washington last week came at a news conference in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where the former Massachusetts governor announced the support of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Perry, Romney said, "selected an individual to introduce him who then used religion as a basis for which he said he would endorse Gov. Perry and a reason to not support me. Gov. Perry then said that introduction 'just hit it out of the park.'"
"I just don't believe that that kind of divisiveness based upon religion has a place in this country," Romney said. "I believe in the spirit of the founders, when they suggested in crafting this country that we would be a nation that tolerated other people, different faiths. That we'd be a place of religious diversity. And that respect they embodied in the Constitution itself."
Jeffress, in his introduction of Perry at the Washington summit Friday, asked attendees whether they wanted a candidate "who is a good, moral person, or do we want a candidate who is a 'born-again' follower of the Lord, Jesus Christ."
He later told reporters that he "absolutely" agreed with the view of some evangelical Christians that Mormonism is a cult, and that in a contest between Perry and Romney, "We ought to prefer a 'born-again' follower of Christ."
Christie, the campaign's newest and arguably most prominent surrogate, said that any candidate that would associate with such comments "is beneath the office of president of the United States."
"These types of religious matters have nothing to do with the quality of somebody's ability to lead," Christie said. "You have to evaluate their record, evaluate their character and their integrity. Not based upon their religious beliefs, but upon who they are."
Christie linked Jeffress to the reaction in New Jersey to his appointment of a Muslim judge.