by Tom Howell Jr.
LYNCHBURG, VA. – Ted CruzÂ on Wednesday told graduating students at LibertyÂ UniversityÂ they should stand by their principles because religious liberty is under threat by theÂ Obama administrationâ€™s birth-control mandate and immersed in other skirmishes at the intersection of religion and secular life.
TheÂ Supreme CourtÂ recently heard a challenge from two family-owned corporations that say the Affordable Care Act contraception mandate violates their religious beliefs. It is â€œa critical case that goes to the heart of religious freedom,â€Â Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, said in his convocation speech to the ChristianÂ collegeÂ founded by the Rev.Â Jerry FalwellÂ in Lynchburg, Va.
â€œToday, religious liberty has never been more under assault,â€ he said. â€œWe are called to action as believers, not to sitting quietly and hiding our faith under a bushel, but to stand and speak no matter what the consequence.â€
The outspoken freshman senator has clashed with theÂ White House, congressional Democrats and members of his own party during his short tenure on Capitol Hill.
Cheered by the tea party and grassroots conservatives,Â Mr. CruzÂ was accused by some Republicans of causing a government shutdown last fall by demanding thatÂ CongressÂ defund Obamacare as part of any federal spending deal.
Months later, he forced Senate Republican leaders into tough votes on the nationâ€™s debt ceiling. But he has won supporters along the way and is considered a rising star and potential contender for the partyâ€™s presidential nomination in 2016.
On Wednesday,Â Mr. CruzÂ focused heavily on Americaâ€™s founding principles of religion and freedom in a speech that ranged in subject from the Bible to Martin Luther King Jr. to Americaâ€™s founding, sounding in turns like a historyÂ professorÂ and/or a pastor delivering his Sunday sermon.
The senator said he wasnâ€™t there to talk politics, but delved into the various flashpoints between atheists and religiously affiliated groups. He also hit the IRS over its recent political targeting scandal.
â€œThe federal government has noÂ businessÂ asking any American the content of our prayers,â€Â Mr. CruzÂ said, alluding to a question the IRS asked a group seeking tax-exempt status.
Between parables about his religious life and other experiences, he recounted how before theÂ Supreme CourtÂ he defended a Ten Commandments monument that stands on the Texas State Capitol grounds in downtown Austin, and fought off a challenge to the words â€œone nation under Godâ€ in the Pledge of Allegiance.
He encouraged theÂ studentÂ body to stand up for their beliefs, using social media and other modern tools to their advantage, and accused theÂ Obama administrationÂ of going too far in its legal fight with a group of nuns in Colorado.
The Little Sisters of the Poor, which run homes for the elderly poor, say they do not want to sign a waiver that turns over to others their responsibility for insuring their employeesâ€™ contraceptives. It was an accommodation theÂ administrationÂ extended to religiously affiliated nonprofits, but the nuns and others say signing the form is still encouraging another party to do something immoral according to their religion â€” pay for birth control â€” on their behalf.
The fight is wending its way through the federal appeals courts, while theÂ Supreme CourtÂ mulls whether the contraception mandate should apply to all for-profit companies.
â€œHow through the looking glass have we gone?â€Â Mr. CruzÂ said, that the government is now litigating with people defending their religious faith.
Mr. CruzÂ also took some shots at himself, saying plenty of big names have spoken to the student body before, but today they were â€œstuck with a lawyer, and even worse a politician.â€