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KENNEDY CHALLENGES LDS OPPONENT TO DISCUSS EQUALITY ISSUES

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who previously said religion should not be a campaign issue, says his Republican opponent should explain his position on the LDS Church's past practice of barring minorities from leadership roles.

Speaking Monday at Northeastern University, Kennedy noted that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1978 revised its policies to allow blacks to become leaders in the church."Where is Mr. Romney on those issues in terms of equality of race prior to 1978 and other kinds of issues in question?" Kennedy asked.

Mitt Romney, a former LDS stake president, so far has declined to discuss where he stood on the status of blacks in his church prior to 1978 or where he now stands regarding gender equality issues. Women do not hold the priesthood in the LDS Church.

Romney has said he considers his relationship with his church to be a personal matter. But his campaign quickly criticized Kennedy, saying the 32-year incumbent changed his mind on using religion as an issue after a recent poll showed him trailing with just six weeks to go in the campaign.

"Now that Mitt is beating him, Kennedy is breaking his word (about not using religion)," said Romney adviser Charles Manning. He said Kennedy "is quickly becoming a sad candidate without any credibility."

Manning said Romney joined his father, former presidential candidate George Romney, in walking out of the 1964 Republican National Convention after a civil rights plank was blocked by conservatives.