By Robert Mann
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who declared his candidacy for president last Wednesday, is passionate about what he calls “religious freedom.” In speech after speech over recent years, the Indian-American governor – a convert from Hinduism to Catholicism in his teens – warns Christian evangelical audiences that liberals are hell-bent on squelching religious speech.
On Friday, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling affirming same-sex marriage rights, Jindal reacted with predictable outrage. He cast the ruling as an assault on Christian values.
“This decision will pave the way for an all out assault against the religious freedom rights of Christians who disagree with this decision,” Jindal said in his statement. “This ruling must not be used as pretext by Washington to erode our right to religious liberty.
“The government should not force those who have sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage to participate in these ceremonies,” Jindal added, previewing a struggle over whether businesses may deny services to same-sex couples. “That would be a clear violation of America’s long held commitment to religious liberty as protected in the First Amendment.”
Long before he declared his candidacy, some political observers pegged Jindal as the presidential hopeful most likely to rely on his policy chops to win support for a White House bid (he ran the University of Louisiana System, served as the state’s secretary of Health and Hospitals and was an assistant secretary of George W. Bush’s Department of Health and Human Services).
Instead, the former Rhodes scholar has emerged as the candidate most eager to cash in on his religious faith.
Jindal routinely speaks at churches and religious gatherings in early primary and caucus states. He delivered the spring 2014 commencement speech at Virginia’s Liberty University, asking the graduates, “What happens when our government decides it no longer needs a ‘moral and religious people?’”
This is how Jindal answered his question: “It is a war – a silent war — against religious liberty. This war is waged in our courts and in the halls of political power. It is pursued with grim and relentless determination by a group of like-minded elites, determined to transform the country from a land sustained by faith — into a land where faith is silenced, privatized, and circumscribed.”
Jindal clearly wants to be seen as religion’s field general in this imaginary war. Last January, Jindal presided over a controversial prayer rally, ”The Response,” on the campus of Louisiana State University. The American Family Association, identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a “hate group,” helped sponsor the event. Moments before he announced for president at a convention center in Kenner, Louisiana (just outside New Orleans), Jindal invited photographers to snap pictures of him in a prayer circle of evangelical pastors.
In December 2013, when Phil Robertson, of A&E’s once-popular reality show “Duck Dynasty,” was caught making homophobic remarks in a GQ article, Jindal rushed to Robertson’s defense. He claimed that the network’s brief suspension of the show and the criticism of Robertson’s odious remarks were a violation of the reality star’s free speech rights. ”I remember when TV networks believed in the First Amendment,” Jindal said in defense of Robertson, now an icon of the religious right. “It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”
In March, after the governors of Indiana and Arkansas withdrew their support of legislation that permitted businesses to refuse services to same-sex couples, Jindal stepped boldly into the fray of religious intolerance. In his speech opening the 2015 Louisiana Legislature in April, Jindal pushed a bill similar to those proposed in Arkansas and Indiana, counting it among his top priorities.
“There used to be bipartisan support for the principle of religious liberty,” Jindal told lawmakers. “However, these days, some think diversity of belief is too risky and scary to be tolerated. But that’s wrong … In the United States, a state should not be able to take adverse action against an individual for holding a sincerely held religious view regarding marriage. That would be true discrimination.”
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