Cruz: Religious liberty 'has never been more under assault'

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on Wednesday said religious freedom is under attack in the United States and urged people of faith to "stand and speak."

Delivering a speech at Liberty University, a school that bills itself as the largest Christian university in the country, Cruz delivered a call to arms for the defense of the First Amendment.

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"As believers, we are called to action, not to sitting quietly, but to stand and speak no matter what the consequence," Cruz said. 

The Texas senator, a potential GOP candidate for president in 2016, blasted the Obama administration's contraception mandate in the new healthcare law, which is now being weighed by the Supreme Court.

"For a nation that was founded by pilgrims fleeing religious oppression, how through the looking glass have we gone that the federal government is litigating against our citizens, trying to force us to violate our faith?” he asked. “Religious liberty has never been more under assault.” 

A number of potential GOP presidential candidates have made a trip to Liberty, including Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) last year. A host of GOP candidates who ran in 2012 have also spoken at the school, which was founded by the late evangelist Jerry Falwell.

Cruz said he was at the Lynchburg, Va., university encourage students to stand up for their religious principles and said the audience also inspired him. 

"I'm so inspired; I may get an eagle tattooed on my chest," he said. 

The Supreme Court last month heard oral arguments about whether two for-profit companies — one of them Hobby Lobby — should be allowed to be exempt from a portion of the ObamaCare mandate that requires companies to provide free coverage for a number contraception methods.

Cruz said the case strikes at the heart of religious freedom and blasted the media for trying to portray the case as simply "about whether people can access contraceptives."

"There is no dispute in the country, anyone who wants to use contraceptive can do so," he said. "What the Hobby Lobby case is about is whether the federal government can force people to violate their religious beliefs and pay for the contraceptives of others."

Cruz spoke about his past defense of religious freedom as the Texas solicitor general and during his private practice. He also invoked Martin Luther King Jr. and American pastor Saeed Abedini, who has been jailed in Iran since September, when describing how a call to religious action is not easy. 

He called for the U.S. government to speak out against Abedini's detention. 

Cruz also blasted the IRS, which has taken fire for targeting a number of conservative organizations for extra scrutiny when applying for non-profit status. In at least one instance, the IRS reportedly asked a group for information about its prayer meetings. 

"We've seen the IRS demanding of citizens, tell us what books you are reading, tell us the content of your prayers," he said. "Let me tell you something, the federal government has no business asking any American the content of our prayers."