LYNCHBURG, Va. (CBSMiami/AP) — Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush condemned the Obama administration over what he says is its use of “coercive federal power” to limit religious freedom.READ MORE: 3 Million Pounds Of Dead Fish Cleaned Up Off Pinellas County In Red Tide Fish Kill
Ahead of a likely presidential run, Bush courted Christian conservatives at a Liberty University commencement on Saturday.
During his speech, Bush said “the Christian voice” isn’t heard enough in the world and lashed out at the Democratic president’s administration for “demanding obedience in complete disregard of religious conscience.”
“What should be easy calls in favor of religious freedom have instead become an aggressive stance against it,” Bush told an estimated 34,000 gathered for a graduation ceremony.
The ceremony was held inside a rural Virginia football stadium at Liberty University, an institution founded by the late conservative culture warrior, Rev. Jerry Falwell.
“Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith,” he said.
Bush, a converted Catholic, is preparing to enter a Republican primary contest that includes Republican competitors considered far more popular with the GOP’s religious right. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz formally announced his presidential campaign at Liberty University last month. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry have all made their Christian faith a centerpiece of prospective campaigns.READ MORE: ‘This Is Our Fight’: From Miami To Hialeah, Crowds Gather To Support Cuba
All have aggressively condemned Obama’s health care overhaul which requires some religion-affiliated organizations to provide health insurance for employees that includes birth control. The measure is among several examples of what Republicans charge is Obama’s attack on religious liberty.
“How strange, in our own time, to hear Christianity spoken of as some sort of backward and oppressive force,” Bush said. “Your generation is bringing the Christian voice to where it always is needed, and sometimes isn’t heard enough.”
Despite nagging questions about Bush’s conservative credentials, Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr. noted that Bush was considered a hero among social conservatives as Florida governor. He fought to keep Michael Schiavo from removing the feeding tube from his brain-damaged wife, Terri. Leaders in the anti-abortion movement still praise Bush today.
And in a reminder that his path to the presidency depends upon moderate and independents perhaps as much as conservatives, Bush concluded his remarks with a message for non-Christians.
“In my experience, at least, you generally find the same good instincts, fair-mindedness, and easygoing spirit among Americans of every type — including, of course, the many who belong to no church at all,” he said.
Democrats were paying close attention to Bush’s remarks.
“Jeb Bush will not win over any Virginia voters with his close-minded pandering to the right wing,” said Morgan Finkelstein, spokesman for the Democratic Party of Virginia. “By supporting the Indiana discrimination law and attacking women’s reproductive rights, Bush places himself firmly at odds with Virginia values.”MORE NEWS: 4 Miami Beach Police Officers Relieved Of Duty Over Use Of Force Following Arrest
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