Gov. Bobby Jindal started with a joke and then quickly dove into religious freedom within the political arena Saturday at Liberty University.
Jindal traveled to Lynchburg, Va., to deliver the commencement address at the evangelical Christian college founded by the late Jerry Falwell. The governor received an honorary humanities degree.
The governor drew big laughs by poking fun at President Barack Obama’s much quoted and ultimately incorrect statement that people could keep their original health plans under the Affordable Care Act.
“I thought about telling you if you like your health care plan you can keep your health care plan,” Jindal said, pausing as the crowd erupted into laughter. “But I didn’t want to lie to you,” he said, continuing.
As he prepares for a possible White House run, Jindal is embracing conservative Christians by denouncing what he characterizes as a silent war on their beliefs. He said the Obama administration and the entertainment industry are embracing intolerance and trying to silence conservatives’ religious beliefs.
It’s a theme he’s nurtured through his defense of the “Duck Dynasty” patriarch’s anti-homosexuality statements and his denouncement of a Michigan religious court case that actually started under the Bush administration.
Jindal highlighted his background Saturday - describing himself as the son of Hindu parents - and told graduates about an early political debate. He said his advisers prepped him on how to answer a question about the most important moment in his life. With a wife and a baby daughter, Jindal said he easily could have pointed to his engagement or his daughter’s birth. Instead, he said, he decided to be honest as his advisers squirmed in their seats.
“I told the audience the truth that day, that the most significant moment in my life was the moment I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal lord and savior,” the governor said.
Liberty University is a conservative college with a history of attracting big political names to its campus. Ronald Reagan spoke there before becoming president.
Graduation day was a mix of gospel music, applause for the military and news headlines. Sitting in the audience were the Benham twins, Liberty graduates who recently lost their HGTV show, supposedly because it came to light that one of the twins protested against abortion and homosexuality.
The college’s president, Jerry Falwell Jr., told graduates that they are entering a world increasingly hostile to their Christian values. He also reminded them of his father’s advice to get a ring by spring, asking those who met their significant others on campus to stand.
Introducing Jindal, Falwell rattled off a number of quotes about the governor, referring to him as a phenom, the next Ronald Reagan and possibly the nation’s next president. He said Jindal ruthlessly eliminated burdensome taxes in Louisiana and embraced pro-business policies.
Unlike former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who carefully skirted his Mormon faith when he was at the conservative college, Jindal freely referred to his Hindu background and his Catholicism.
After highlighting his background, Jindal returned to the Obama administration, telling graduates that the president is ignoring deeply held beliefs as an inconvenience to an ever-expanding regulatory state.
Like Falwell, Jindal criticized HGTV for cancelling the show featuring David and Jason Benham. The Benham twins were supposed to debut “Flip It Forward” and help struggling families buy homes.
Then a recording emerged of David Benham discussing “homosexuality and its agenda that is attacking the nation.” HGTV pulled the plug on the show even though the twins insisted that they are tolerant of all lifestyles.
Jindal said it is the entertainment industry that it is being intolerant.
“The modern left in America is completely intolerant of the views of people of faith. They want a completely secular society where people of faith keep their views to themselves,” he said.
The governor later offered some soothing words for graduates.
“You should be optimistic and be of good cheer ... If God is with us, who could be against us?” the governor said.
Follow Michelle Millhollon on Twitter @mmillhollon. For more coverage of Louisiana government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/