During his Liberty University commencement speech this May, Jeb Bush made the case for religious liberty — making the critical point (especially in an era where Christians are constantly branded “haters” or “bigots”) that liberty is crucial not merely for its own sake but because “Whatever the need, the affliction, or the injustice, there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.” He continued:
“These are the days,” as Chesterton remarked, “in which Christians are expected to praise every faith but their own.” He never accepted that limitation, and neither should we, least of all in reply to criticism. One of the great things about this faith of ours is its daring, untamed quality, which is underrated . . . No place where the message reaches, no heart that it touches, is ever the same again. And across our own civilization, what a radically different story history would tell without it. Consider a whole alternative universe of power without restraint, conflict without reconciliation, oppression without deliverance, corruption without reformation, tragedy without renewal, achievement without grace, and it’s all just a glimpse of human experience without the Christian influence.
Later today at Regent University, Bush will announce the creation of a “Religious Liberty Advisory Committee,” a coalition of political and religious leaders who will “help him identify threats to the First Amendment” and assist in crafting strategies to “protect our first freedom.” The Committee incudes Senators Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Dean Heller (R-Nevada) and seventeen members of the House. A number of my former colleagues at the American Center for Law and Justice are members of the Committee, and other faith leaders include Mark DeMoss, Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and Jane Abraham, Chairman of the Board of the SBA list. My former ACLJ colleague, Geoffrey Surtees (who’s been fighting in the trenches for religious liberty for a very long time), praised Bush, saying that he “understands that religious liberty is not just the first freedom protected in our Bill of Rights, but a fundamental freedom of civic society.”
As a longtime religious liberties litigator, it’s a chief source of frustration that conservative attention to religious liberty is sporadic — driven by specific events or controversies that catch fire in the mainstream media (think Kim Davis or Hobby Lobby) — while leftist attacks on our first freedom are relentless. For every significant public controversy there are countless regulations, policies, or other bureaucratic initiatives of the deep state that undermine liberty and teach our fellow citizens that there is something inherently wrong with Christians who bring their faith into the public square. Surveying the members of Bush’s Committee, it was reassuring to see familiar names — names of people who understand the depth of the threat to the First Amendment and those who’ve been winning the public battles and fighting in the longer, thankless, and more critical quiet conflicts far from the front pages.
I don’t think there’s a serious GOP candidate who hasn’t pledged to support religious liberty, but they’d do well to consider precisely how they’d fight. By surrounding himself with advisers who know the challenges and who’ve fought the hard fights, Bush is off to a good start.