Mitt Romney at Thursday night’s GOP debate in Sioux City, Iowa. (Courtesy of Fox News)

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Mitt Romney embraced the role of “religious ornamentation and celebration” in the public square here Friday after an Iowa voter complained to him that the nation’s children cannot celebrate Christmas without the risk of offending others.

Romney’s remarks about religion marked a departure for the former Massachusetts governor, who rarely discusses his Mormon faith or religion on the campaign trail. Romney said he supports prayer at public events, like football games and graduation ceremonies, although said he did not believe teachers should pray with their students every day in public schools.

“I know there are some people who would like to make this nation a secular nation, who want to take God out of everything that exists in our country,” Romney said. But, he added, “I believe that we should be able to have religions ornamentation and celebration in the public square. And whether that’s a manger or a menorah or representatives of other faiths, it is important for us as a society to recognize that we look to God for many of our blessings.”

Romney added: “I think at school celebrations, at graduations, for instance, that we ought to be able to have prayer there. Now I’m not looking for teachers to have prayer every day in the classroom, but I do think that at special ceremonies -- graduation, football games and the like – that calling on our creator is a good idea, and to recognize that on this earth, there’s something more than just ourselves.”

Addressing about 150 steel workers and other supporters at the Missouri Valley Steel plant here, Romney turned to American history to defend the role of religion in public life. He said George Washington felt it was only through the blessings of providence that the nation became free and won independence in the Revolutionary War.

Romney said he understands the position of atheists, but believes there should be an embrace of God in public life.

“One of the things I love about this country is that whether you are believing or non-believing, you typically have something that’s more important in your life than just yourself,” Romney said. “We’re bigger than ourselves.”

Romney toured the steel factory here before flying to South Carolina, where he will campaign with Gov. Nikki Haley and officially receive her endorsement at a Greenville rally.

Standing here on a steel platform on a chilly factory floor, Romney playfully encouraged his Iowa supporters to caucus for him on Jan. 3.

“If you’re going to be voting for me, the date is going to be January 3rd,” Romney said. “The other folks are taking their votes in on January 4th.”

Laughing, he continued: “Kidding! Just kidding!”