Mitt Romney continues to warm evangelical voters to the idea of a Mormon President, as evidenced by his well-received commencement speech Saturday at Liberty University. But the presumptive GOP nominee has yet to robustly address a key issue of shared passion for evangelicals and Mormons alike: the promotion of international religious freedom.

At Liberty Romney touched on domestic religious freedom concerns, as he has several times during the campaign in response to the Obama administration's new birth control insurance mandate. "It strikes me as odd," Romney told Liberty graduates, "that the free exercise of religious faith is sometimes treated as a problem, something America is stuck with instead of blessed with."

Briefly alluding to the grim realities of persecution overseas, Romney reminded his audience that, "Religious freedom opens a door for Americans that is closed to too many others around the world."

At this point in his remarks Romney could have articulated a commitment to helping push that door open beyond America's shores. After all, those "too many others" include the majority of humanity. Under some authoritarian regimes, such as North Korea's, that door is completely and brutally closed. In dozens of countries with weak rule of law, the door opens and closes at the whims of local officials. And in many countries, particularly in the broader Middle East, governments may leave the door at least ajar, but extremist groups and pervasive intolerance effectively block the door to minority faith communities.

Romney comes from one of those minority communities and thus has unique credibility on questions of conscience. Mormonism emerged amidst severe social hostility and still faces more than its fair share of it around the world. The movement's founder was martyred by an angry mob in 1844, and his flock fled to the Utah wilderness after being expelled from several states.

In its 2009 International Religious Freedom Report the U.S. State Department acknowledged that while Americans are rightly proud of their heritage of liberty, past mistreatment of Mormons and other minorities reminds us that "our society has long struggled to accommodate its religious diversity."

That Mormonism now thrives in America's diverse religious landscape is a great testament to the durability of both the American experiment and the Mormon community. However, adherents outside the United States face government restrictions and societal derision in several nations. Mormons may find their beliefs publically denounced, their missionary activity banned, and their religion placed on official lists of "dangerous cults"—forms of abuse suffered alongside many evangelical and Pentecostal groups.

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Not surprisingly, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), the main Mormon denomination, is at the forefront of combating persecution worldwide. LDS leaders regularly lobby foreign governments and multilateral organizations to enshrine policies to protect genuine pluralism. During my years of service in the State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom I worked alongside several excellent Mormon colleagues and met frequently with Mormon representatives from around the world. I'm not a Mormon, but I admired these LDS members' zeal for advancing the rights of all faiths as an expression of their faith.

Such an expression is a distinctive feature of Mormonism. Whereas historic Christianity arrives at an understanding of religious freedom by natural law reasoning or by theological extrapolation from the Bible, Mormonism has explicit affirmations of this fundamental right in its very scriptures. That's one benefit of founding a religion in 19th century America. Section 134 of the Doctrines and Covenants states,

We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.

As a devout Mormon, Romney is well positioned to address issues of international religious freedom. He could speak openly about his community's past and present experience of persecution and how his beliefs compel him to defend the full rights of vulnerable faiths everywhere. His faith, he could argue, enables him to empathize and connect with other religious minority groups.

Such a statement would also help Romney connect with skeptical or unenthused evangelical voters. The effect would be similar to what we saw in 2008 when candidate Obama generated positive buzz among traditionally Republican religious voters when he pledged to expand President Bush's controversial faith-based initiative.

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To be sure, discussion of personal faith has drawbacks for Romney, just as it did and still does for Obama. But for American politicians there is usually more to be gained than lost by talking clearly and carefully about one's faith and its connection to policy—especially on a policy as widely embraced as combating persecution.

If Romney can convincingly articulate how his Mormon faith drives his dedication to opening doors for religious freedom abroad, he may open the door to greater receptivity among evangelicals at home.

Judd Birdsall is a Ph.D. candidate in International Relations at Cambridge University. From 2007 to 2011 he served at the U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom and was founding chairman of the Forum on Religion & Global Affairs.

"Speaking Out" is Christianity Today's guest opinion column and (unlike an editorial) does not necessarily represent the opinion of the magazine.

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Judd Birdsall previously wrote, "Santorum Wrong to Reignite 'Freedom of Worship' Controversy."

Previous Christianity Today stories related to religious freedom and persecution include:

'Freedom of Worship' Worries | New religious freedom rhetoric within the Obama administration draws concern. (June 22, 2010)

Persecution Prompts Missions Agency to Transform | Operation Mobilization India transforms itself into a local witness. (October 21, 2011)

Should the China Ambassador Worship at a House Church? | Observers discuss whether the U.S. ambassador to China should worship at an unregistered church to 'publicly identify with the persecuted.' (March 31, 2011)