Washington — Gov. Bobby Jindal emphasized his personal faith and the importance of defending religious liberty in a speech Friday to a religious-right conference that’s also hearing from a host of other Republicans eyeing a presidential campaign in 2016.
Jindal, expected to officially declare his own candidacy on Wednesday in Kenner, opened with a prayer for the victims of the church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, that killed nine Wednesday. Jindal has accused Democratic President Barack Obama of a “shameful” attempt to score political points off the tragedy by suggesting in remarks Thursday a need to address the issue of violence in American society.
Jindal spoke at midday on the second of three days of the Road to Majority 2015 conference sponsored by the Faith & Freedom Coalition. The coalition is led by Ralph Reed, who was a senior adviser to the national Bush-Cheney campaigns in both 2000 and 2004 and is a former chairman of the Georgia Republican Party. He may be best known for his work as executive director from 1989 to 1997 of the Christian Coalition, which amplified the voice of the religious right in politics — a goal his current coalition shares.
Jindal also spoke to the group’s 2014 conference, held in June at the same Washington hotel. He deployed then a phrase that has become something of a trademark for him and which he repeated Friday: “The United States of America did not create religious liberty; religious liberty created the United States of America.”
That prompted applause from his several hundred listeners. So did his statement, “We worship an all-powerful God,” with the response punctuated by a forceful “Amen!”
Jindal’s speech included fewer references to political issues, fewer attacks on Democrats and fewer laugh lines than the 2014 version, and more of an emphasis on religious themes. Jindal recounted his teenage journey from the Hinduism of his parents, who emigrated from India to Baton Rouge months before his birth, to born-again Christianity, a story included in his autobiographical 2010 book, “Leadership and Crisis.” He identifies now as an evangelical Catholic.
But he did hit on some of the issues he has addressed over the last year in his all-but-announced campaign, which has taken him on multiple visits to Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — three states with early nomination contests scheduled in 2016.
He emphasized his support for traditional marriage and for laws that would shield businesses from charges of discrimination for refusing service to same-sex couples on religious grounds. He pushed for such a law in the recently completed session of the Louisiana Legislature, but the bill died, in part because of opposition from large corporations.
Jindal said, as he has before, that he has a message for big business: “You might as well save your breath when it comes to the state of Louisiana because I am standing for religious liberty every chance I get.”
Corporate America has entered into an “unnatural alliance with the radical left,” Jindal said.
“Economic freedom and religious freedom are two sides of the same coin,” Jindal said.
Jindal, 44, is one of a dozen Republican contenders set to speak at the conference during its three-day run.
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