Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio) is warning that a move to a "totally secular society" would rob the United States of its morals and complicate the fight against Islamic terrorists.
"If we become secularists when we face a radical Islam that is the farthest thing from secularist, when we can't unite with our friends in the Jewish, Muslim and Christian community to espouse a set of values that is the true way for human beings to conduct their lives and live their lives, we will be in a very severe crisis point," Kasich, a presidential contender, said Tuesday before the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington.
Kasich made the comment as he pivoted from a question on gay marriage.
He said that the "aggressive search for a secular society isn't working," leaving the country without a shared set of morals.
"The sense of right and wrong that comes from the great religions is something the West should begin to pay attention to and not continue to drive towards a totally secular society," he said.
Kasich has long discussed faith in his speeches and as a justification for many policies, including his expansion of Medicaid as governor.
His latest emphasis on the issue accompanies a push to rally support in Iowa, an early-voting state where religious conservatives hold clout.
Kasich focused his campaign initially on New Hampshire, and on Tuesday lauded his Granite State team, saying it was built to last. New polling from NBC News/Marist shows him falling to seventh place in the state, which he has called the lynchpin of his bid.
"It's no surprise that we consider New Hampshire to be important, but not the exclusion of all other places," he said Tuesday. "We have the best organization there, and organizations win."
The Ohio governor was participating in a wide-ranging interview with the Hispanic Chamber's president, Javier Palomarez.
More centrist on immigration than many other GOP 2016 rivals, Kasich reiterated his support for a guest worker program and legal status for those in America illegally, as well as a wall on the southern border.
"For those that are here that have been law-abiding, God bless them, they are a critical part of our society ... they should have a path to legalization," he said.
"It's my sense that the public would accept this as a reasonable proposal, and I think it would pass the Congress."
Kasich took flak last month for commenting on the importance of tipping a Hispanic hotel maid when asked about Hispanic voters, with some critics accusing him of playing to stereotypes.
When Palomarez confronted Kasich on those comments, he brushed aside the criticism and instead focused on the importance of slowing down and noticing the work of those around you.
"What do I think about the role of Hispanics? I think they can do everything and anything in this society. People want to take things and drive divisions, but I don't understand that," he said.
Kasich also touted his outsider credentials in a race where the top three GOP candidates in recent national polls — real estate mogul Donald Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and businesswoman Carly Fiorina — have never been elected to public office.
"When did I ever become establishment?" he asked Palomarez.
"From the time I got into politics all the way through where I'm today, there is no one I can think of that has more consistently shaken up the status quo more than I have."