Sen. Ted Cruz is heading to Kentucky Tuesday to visit Kim Davis, the jailed county clerk whose case has become a political lightning rod in the Republican presidential primary and a rallying point for social conservative candidates.
Cruz is personally going to show his support for Davis, who was sent to jail for refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses because of her religious opposition, because he “is going to be doing everything in his power to ensure more Americans don’t become victim to religious persecution by the government,” an aide to the campaign said.
It’s part of a broader position Cruz hopes to own in the presidential race. While some of his rivals, like Governors Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal, have made religious liberty a recurring theme in their campaigns, Cruz holds what could be a unique advantage: no other candidate can lay claim to a history of fighting for – and winning – such cases in front of the Supreme Court.
The issue has been a dividing line of sorts within the presidential field, with candidates like Cruz and Huckabee issuing a strong defense of Davis’ actions and others, like Jeb Bush, seeking a more middle ground between her convictions and duties. And the controversy comes in the midst of a campaign where all the candidates are seeking to gain support from social conservatives in key early states like Iowa and South Carolina. Huckabee will also be in Kentucky Tuesday to support Davis.
Cruz’s passionate stance on religious liberty is apparent at nearly every campaign stop, when he vows to instruct federal agencies to end what he describes as the persecution of religious freedom. He also hosted a well-produced and well-attended event in Iowa several weeks ago focusing entirely on the issue of religious liberty. The rally drew 2,000 attendees and included participants like the Odgaards, the Iowa couple who closed their wedding chapel after a gay couple sued.
“These are real people living real lives, being persecuted for living out their lives,” said Cruz at the time. “There is a war on faith in America today.”
It’s not a new argument from Cruz. Several years before his Senate run in 2012, he argued multiple religious liberty cases during his time as the solicitor general for Texas.
Cruz defended the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance and its phrase “under God;” he also helped then-Attorney General Greg Abbott to a narrow Supreme Court victory allowing a monument of the Ten Commandments to remain on display at the Texas State Capitol.
Cruz described tackling those cases as “an important opportunity to push back against those who want freedom of religion to be the absence of religion,” as he phrased it in his book “A Time for Truth.”
The senator echoed the sentiment in a statement defending Davis after she was arrested last week: “We are a country founded on Judeo-Christian values, founded by those fleeing religious oppression and seeking a land where we could worship God and live according to our faith, without being imprisoned for doing so.”