GREENVILLE, S.C. — Sen. Ted Cruz asserted Saturday that Christians are under assault, both by the government and in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
Cruz has been assiduously courting evangelical Christian voters, and held a religious liberty rally at Bob Jones University here the day after his main rival for that bloc, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, appeared at the school.
The Texas Republican spent more than an hour describing how he believes people of faith and their ideals are under siege — by the media, Democrats, the government and "radical Islamic terrorism" that is "a malevolent force that right now, as we speak, is persecuting Christians" as well as Jews and Muslims, he said during a prayer.
Cruz said President Obama has "demonstrated a particular antipathy" for Christians. He said that Muslim refugees from Syria should not be allowed into the United States because intelligence agencies cannot determine which of them might be aligned with the Islamic State. However Cruz said Christian refugees should be allowed to come to the United States, but President Obama does not want to let them in.
This is the second religious liberty rally Cruz has held this year — the first was in August in Des Moines — and underscores just how much he believes Christians are key to his electoral success. But he has competition from Carson, who has robust support among evangelicals.
Cruz's campaign has been working to lock up the support of pastors in every county in Iowa and here in South Carolina, and his father Rafael Cruz, a pastor, has been dispatched to court Christian supporters. The campaign has complied a list of more than 400 prominent evangelical Christians it hopes to get to support Cruz. It said 191 of them are backing Cruz.
The nearly three-hour program featured highly-produced videos and a discussion with people Cruz called "heroes" of religious liberty, including a woman who was the subject of a lawsuit over prayer in a graduation speech. Cruz said such stories are believed by non-Christians to be "unacceptable and shunned from polite society.”
Cruz also said the government is targeting Christians.
"The federal government wages a daily assault on life, on marriage, on religious liberty. It’s because Christians are not standing up for our values," he said.
He also aimed his barbs at the media, pointing to a bank of cameras and asking why it hasn't aired videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of fetal tissue in a seemingly cavalier manner. The audience turned around and cheered. Cruz said the "nation has created an industry that traffics in the death of little babies. and the sale for profit of their body parts."
"The silent majority is what he's talking about," Christine Gates, 49, of Lenore, N.C., said after the rally.
Lois Howell, a missionary who lives in Honduras but votes in Florida and has two daughters at Bob Jones, said she believes evangelical Christians are ready to fight back against social changes.
"What resonates with us is that we have felt the 'oh you're stupid evangelicals, you don't know anything, you hate people,'" she said. "They hate God, and they take it out on us."
Howell said she believes Cruz is "one of us."
Cruz and Carson are the first presidential candidates to have rallies at Bob Jones in years. George W. Bush came under fire for appearing here in 2000 because the school banned interracial dating; the ban was lifted weeks later. It has also been under fire for how it handled reports of sexual assaults. An independent report issued last year said the school told victims they were to blame for abuse and not to go to the police. The president of the school apologized to victims.
Cruz did not mention these things during the program, but he did bring up the issue of race, stating that many votes supporting a 2008 ballot provision in California that eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry there were cast by African-American and Latino voters.
"Many, many, many of those votes came overwhelmingly from the African-American community and the Hispanic community, but, on this issue, their views are not repeated," Cruz said. "You’ve got to understand, those views are only welcome if they agree with the leftist agenda being spewed on television 24/7.”
Cruz said that liberals "seem to forget" that the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was a pastor.
The Rev. E.W. Jackson, a Virginia pastor who has long been a critic of the Democratic Party and President Obama, was one of the afternoon's featured speakers.
"I stand before you not as an African American; I am an American," he said. "We have got to lay aside our denominational divisions, we have go to lay aside our racial divisions ... to pursue the vision of 'One Nation, Under God.'"