During World War II, a German U-Boat pummeled the USS Dorchester with torpedoes as it rounded the tip of Greenland. With horror, men onboard the American ship realized they outnumbered the life jackets. Four chaplains—two Protestants, a Catholic, and one Jew—calmly removed their jackets, gave them to the other sailors, and joined arms to sing hymns as the Dorchester went down.
“They didn’t ask, ‘Are you a Protestant? Are you a Catholic? Are you a Jew?’ They simply stepped forward to sacrifice their lives to save the lives of their brothers,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaking to more than 1,000 evangelical leaders during the kickoff to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s Road to Majority conference this weekend in Washington, D.C.
Cruz, on Thursday, shared this story to explain what makes America unique: the liberty to live (or die) by faith. He called this “the American tradition.”
With sights set on a Republican majority in both wings of the Capitol this November, and perhaps the White House in 2016, Cruz and other conservative senators warned the crowd of moral failures and threats to religious freedom at home and abroad. Only reform inspired by Judeo-Christian values, they said, can save our nation.
“We have an IRS who is asking citizens’ groups: Tell me what books you are reading. Tell me the content of your prayers,” Cruz said. “The federal government has no business asking any American what kinds of books they read.”
Cruz’s fellow Republicans took the conversation beyond religious liberty. Human dignity is under attack in America, said Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah. Politicians and the public have proven it by aborting babies, censoring religion, and celebrating same-sex marriage. Lee lambasted the current government for ignoring broken values and instead spending money to fix every social problem: “We have become far too comfortable with the word ‘trillion’ in our political discourse.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of several scheduled conference speakers possibly headed for the presidential contest, criticized the nation’s “higher education cartel.” “It is unfair, it is immoral, it is un-American that in this country, poor people are the only ones who cannot choose where their children go to school,” he said.
Many households lack encouragement in addition to funds, Rubio added. The government tells people not to smoke because of cancer, and not to gain weight because of heart disease. “But we also need to tell people, ‘It’s important for you to keep your family together,’” he said.
Cruz reminded attendees of one American family torn apart by religious oppression. Daniel Wani is a US citizen from New Hampshire. His wife, Meriam Ibrahim, remains imprisoned in Africa with her two children, one born in her mother’s cell. “The government of Sudan has sentenced Meriam to 100 lashes and then hanged by the neck to die, for the simple crime of being Christian,” he said. Cruz condemned the Obama administration’s silence: “We need the president of the United States to say in no uncertain terms, ‘Send Meriam home.’”
The Texas senator mentioned victories for religious freedom during his time as the state’s solicitor general: keeping the Ten Commandments at the state capitol, holding onto “under God” in the pledge, letting “a lone white Latin cross” remain standing in the Mojave Desert to honor the dead of World War I.
But other religious freedom fights rage on. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to release its decision on Hobby Lobby, a craft-chain company with Christian owners who defied the Affordable Care Act and refused to pay for employees’ abortifacient drugs. The federal government has fined Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic convent whose nuns also chose not to fund contraceptives.
Cruz offered one glimpse of light in the midst of darkness. He recently visited Idaho to meet the wife and children of Saeed Abedini, an American suffering an eight-year sentence in an Iranian prison for his Christian faith. Cruz explained how the couple faced persecution together. “If only you will renounce Christ, we’ll let you go,” Iranian officials told them. When they refused to obey, the commanding officer asked his men to leave. He sat down with the Abedinis and gave a startling order: “Tell me about this Jesus.”
“During the time Pastor Saeed has been in prison, he has been able to lead dozens of fellow prisoners and prison guards to Christ,” Cruz said.