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Marco Rubio at a campaign stop in Atkinson, N.H.
Associated Press/Photo by Mary Schwalm
Marco Rubio at a campaign stop in Atkinson, N.H.

Ballot Boxing: Rubio gets new religious advisers

Campaign 2016 | Prominent evangelicals among religious leaders who will advise GOP presidential hopeful Marco Rubio on religious liberty

Welcome to Ballot Boxing, WORLD’s political roundup of news and views from the presidential campaign trail.

Less than a month before the presidential primary season begins with the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 1, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is set to announce a campaign advisory board focused on religious liberty issues.

Rubio’s campaign tapped a handful of well-known evangelicals for the volunteer board, including pastor Rick Warren, theologian Wayne Grudem, Samuel Rodriguez of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and Thomas Kidd, an author and professor of history at Baylor University (Kidd also occasionally writes for WORLD).

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Eric Teetsel, director of faith outreach for Rubio’s campaign, said membership on the board doesn’t equal an endorsement of the GOP candidate, and the members could advise other campaigns if they wanted.

Warren told me he doesn’t endorse candidates. Grudem said he hasn’t been asked to endorse Rubio “but would be willing to endorse him if asked, while being clear I’m speaking as an individual, not a representative of any institution.”

Grudem called Rubio a reliable conservative and “a winsome, likable candidate who has the best chance of defeating Hillary Clinton, in my view.”

Teetsel said the board would advise the campaign on a range of issues, including persecuted Christians in the Middle East, legal concerns about the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and religious liberty for those opposed to same-sex marriage.

He added Rubio is concerned about protecting liberty for people of all religious backgrounds, and the advisory board includes a Jewish rabbi (see the complete list at the end of this article).

Rubio has highlighted religious liberty since the beginning of his presidential campaign.

“We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech,” he told CBN last spring. “Because today we’ve reached the point in our society where if you do not support same-sex marriage you are labeled a homophobe and a hater.”

The National Organization for Marriage has criticized Rubio for declining to sign a pledge to support a federal constitutional amendment protecting traditional marriage. In early December, the organization endorsed Republican contender Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

Teetsel said Rubio doesn’t consider the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage as settled law, and that the Constitution “provides a path to fix bad decisions: win elections, nominate judges who understand both the law and the limits of their office, and bring new cases before the courts that provide opportunity to get it right.”

He also noted that Rubio is a co-sponsor of the First Amendment Defense Act—legislation that prevents the federal government from discriminating against those who believe in traditional marriage.

Cruz has introduced legislation to prevent the federal government from imposing its own definition of marriage on states, and he has held a series of rallies specifically focused on religious liberty.

In mid-December, Focus on the Family founder James Dobson endorsed Cruz, saying his “record on religious liberty, life, and marriage is second to none in this Republican field.” Cruz also has announced a slew of endorsements from evangelical pastors in Iowa, where he now leads in the polls.

Cruz faced some questions in late December when Politico reported a recording of the senator at a private fundraiser in New York City. An audience member—and same-sex marriage supporter—asked Cruz whether fighting gay marriage would be a top-three priority if he became president.

“No. I would say defending the Constitution is a top priority,” Cruz answered. “And that cuts across the whole spectrum—whether it’s defending [the] First Amendment, defending religious liberty. …”

Cruz also said, “People of New York may well resolve the marriage question differently than the people of Florida or Texas or Ohio. ... That’s why we have 50 states—to allow a diversity of views. …”

Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier told the news outlet the senator has made such arguments all along: “This is nothing different from what he says all the time.”

Meanwhile, business mogul Donald Trump—still leading the GOP race in national polls—tried to appeal to evangelical Christians at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, last week by showing his childhood Bible to the crowd.

“I even brought my Bible—the evangelicals, OK?” he said.

Trump also took an apparent swipe at Cruz, an evangelical of Cuban descent.

“In all fairness, to the best of my knowledge, not too many evangelicals come out of Cuba,” he said. “Just remember that.”

Actually, Cuba has a growing community of evangelical Christians, and a vibrant house church network, despite government opposition, as WORLD’s J.C. Derrick reported from the communist nation just last month:

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