Removing God from the public arena is the biggest domestic threat to America today, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich told an appreciative crowd at a local megachurch Sunday.

The former Speaker of the House and history teacher spoke to more than 1,000 people at Cathedral of Praise, a non- denominational church in North Charleston. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, another Republican running for president, spoke at the church Saturday.

Senior Pastor Mike Lewis said the church can't endorse candidates, but it's appropriate to allow the congregation to examine their values before voting.

Gingrich spoke for about 40 minutes, often to enthusiastic applause.

Secular court rulings are squeezing God out of the public square, and that's a threat to freedom, he said.

"America is a country founded on a belief that rights come directly from the Creator," he said. "Efforts to take God out of the public square are inherently anti-American."

He bolstered his claim by listing many of the references to God in the nation's founding documents and on public monuments around Washington, D.C., a theme of his book and movie "Rediscovering God in America."

The biggest foreign threat is radical Islam, and the U.S. government has not been aggressive enough in identifying the enemy, he said. "I do not want the American Justice Department to become an arm of Islamic suppression," he said.

Near the end of his talk, he appealed to the congregation to overlook his flaws in light of the mission at hand.

"I don't come here today as a perfect person," he said. "I don't come here today without -- I guess the advertisement is -- baggage. ... I am coming to you today as somebody who has the courage to stand up and tell the truth, somebody who is prepared to fight for the America you and I believe in."

Several people interviewed after the service said they were impressed with Gingrich's talk, including those who said they had not decided how to vote in the upcoming Republican presidential primary.

"I'm still kind of undecided," Chuck Mitchell of Summerville said. "Something like this would definitely help change an opinion, though."

Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553.