Back in December, when he was just one more Republican running for his party’s presidential nomination, Rick Perry condemned the Obama administration for its “war on religion.” Days later, Barack Obama’s loyal aide Valerie Jarrett preached politics from the pulpit of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. The juxtaposition might have looked odd, except that Perry had a point: Religion that does not conform with liberalism is an enemy of the Left.
Liberalism has become, in some respects, sexual libertinism. It’s not just “anything goes.” It’s that we now have a fundamental right to anything goes, and taxpayer-funded tools to sustain that lifestyle. You see that in regulations and explicit campaigning. It’s some of what’s behind over-the-top “war on women” rhetoric, even when well intentioned.
When I think of the brief campaign of the Texas governor, this is what I’ll remember: A little bit of clarity. Cowboy boots stomping, on a march against the federal government’s vindicating and indeed mandating a sea-change in morality. Someone who challenged the lie that only one side sees any connection between morality and government.
One of the worst debates of the primary campaign was also one of the best, thanks in part to Perry. It was a Saturday night in Manchester, N.H. — the first of a doubleheader. The moderators kept asking questions about contraception and homosexuality, as if, if the question were asked enough times, one of the candidates would crack, and admit secret plans to issue presidential orders to seize your birth control. Mitt Romney defended his record on marriage while governor of Massachusetts, championing the traditional family and its supportive institutions.
Newt Gingrich asked, “Should the Catholic Church be forced to close its adoption services in Massachusetts because it won’t accept gay couples?” — which is exactly what the state has done. “Should the Catholic Church be driven out of providing charitable services in the District of Columbia because it won’t give in to secular bigotry? Should the Catholic Church find itself discriminated against by the Obama administration on key delivery of services because of the bias and the bigotry of the administration?”
“The bigotry question goes both ways,” Gingrich said. “And there’s a lot more anti-Christian bigotry today than there is concerning the other side. And none of it gets covered by the news media.”
In what was turning into an ecumenical standoff, a Mormon and a Catholic convert were defending the conscience rights of Catholics, both knowing that issues about health-care mandates, abortion funding, government contracts, and rewriting marriage laws affect religious liberty at its core. Rick Perry didn’t have to jump in, but he did. And the evangelical Christian presented an even clearer picture than his opponents: “This administration’s war on religion is what bothers me greatly,” Perry said. “When we see an administration that will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act; that gives their Justice Department clear instructions to go take the ministerial exception away from our churches — where that’s never happened before. When we see this administration not giving money to Catholic Charities for sexually trafficked individuals because they don’t agree with the Catholic Church on abortion, that is a war against religion. And it’s going to stop under a Perry administration.”
Perry was referring to senior officials in this administration’s Department of Health and Human Services who killed a program that Catholic bishops were running with ecumenical partners to help victims of international sex trafficking. Although it has been a successful program, the relationship appears to have been dissolved by advocates of a radical sexual ideology that would rather have victims of sex trafficking further victimized than be helped by those who oppose abortion and artificial contraception. Never mind that, even if you’re morally neutral on both issues, you might see that these could be the last things a woman or girl ensnared in sex slavery would need — making her further available to predators, further violating her dignity. And never mind that federal funds supposedly don’t have anything to do with abortion.
A certain man in Rome would probably be appreciative of the evangelical Perry. “It is imperative,” said Pope Benedict XVI, during a routine visit of American bishops to the Vatican, “that the entire Catholic community in the United States comes to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.” Both paying a compliment and sounding an alarm, he warned of “certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion.”
“At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not,” he said, “is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing.” It is “enshrined in your nation’s founding documents,” which are “grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God.”
Today, however, the pope said, that consensus has been “eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents,” which are “not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.”
Rick Perry’s late entrance into the presidential-primary field was marked by controversy over his involvement with a prayer rally in Texas. It was an affront to those who insist that religion and politics can never mix, while a new, secular sexual revolution stealthily enters into our lexicon of rights and regulatory mandates. Perry, while not prescribing any particular faith, knows that belief in the Creator is part of the American story as we have known it. While you’re as free not to pray as I am to offer up prayers, we had both better be careful about manipulating faith for the sake of politics, ostracizing faith because of our politics, and trampling on conscience rights in service to a faux tolerance.
When history remembers Rick Perry’s time on the campaign trail, it ought to remember this: He saw some of these things clearly and helped advance a conversation that will keep religious freedom out in the open and protected.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.