Washington (CNN) - Addressing the Values Voter Summit in Washington, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney chided a controversial conservative leader who has denounced Mormonism.
The former Massachusetts governor, whose family has deep ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, made no mention of the clamor surrounding Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, who called Mormonism a "cult" after appearing at the summit on Friday.
But Romney did take aim at Bryan Fischer, a director at the American Family Association, who was slated to speak directly after the candidate took the stage Saturday.
Fischer has claimed that Mormons and Muslims have "a completely different definition of who Christ is" than the founding fathers did, and do not deserve First Amendment protections as a consequence.
Without naming Fischer, Romney said those comments are out of bounds.
"One of the speakers who will follow me today, has crossed that line," Romney said. "Poisonous language does not advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart nor changed a single mind. The blessings of faith carry the responsibility of civil and respectful debate."
He added, "The task before us is to focus on the conservative beliefs and the values that unite us – let no agenda narrow our vision or drive us apart."
Few in the audience appeared to catch the reference and some were left wondering if Romney was firing back at Jeffress, but Romney's campaign said the remarks were directed at Fischer.
Fischer took the stage moments later. While he did not single out Mormonism, he said the next president "needs to be a man of sincere authentic genuine Christian faith."
"We need a president who believes in the same creator as who the founders believed," he added.
The Jeffress controversy continued to simmer Saturday at the conference, which was sponsored by the conservative Family Research Council.
Speaking before Romney, former Education Secretary and radio host Bill Bennett weighed in on Jeffress, calling the pastor's comments "bigotry."
"Do not give voice to bigotry," Bennett said. "You stepped on and obscured the words of Perry and Santorum and Cain and Bachmann and everyone else who has spoken here. You did Rick Perry no good sir, in what you had to say."
Romney praised Bennett for his speech, saying he "hit it out of the park."
– CNN's Jim Acosta contributed to this report.