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Jeb Bush says Obama administration uses “coercive federal power” in Liberty University speech

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Jeb Bush quoted C.S. Lewis and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a commencement speech given at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia Saturday morning. But he also couldn’t resist some partisanship during his address, accusing the Obama administration of restricting the rights of religious believers.

Referring to the fact that a number of religious non-profits such as the Little Sisters of the Poor are challenging the so-called “contraception mandate” in of the Affordable Care Act in federal court, Bush said, “From the standpoint of religious freedom, you might even say it’s a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother — and I’m going with the Sisters.”

The nuns, who care for the elderly, say providing artificial birth control violates Catholic teaching. The Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction last January to stay the requirement while a lower court decides the nuns’ appeal.

The former Florida Governor spoke before the graduating class at Liberty, considered the largest Christian university in the world. It was founded by the late Revered Jerry Falwell, and is now run by his son, Jerry Falwell, Jr. He’s the second Republican candidate for president to do so this year, after Ted Cruz addressed a crowd there in March.

The majority of his speech today was taken up by a discussion of faith and Christianity, where he invoked MLK and religious scholar C.S. Lewis.

“‘No law in the world,’ said Martin Luther King, “could have produced such unalloyed compassion, such genuine love, such thorough altruism,'” said Bush. “The Christian faith, as Dr. King proclaimed, ‘adjourns the assemblies of the hopeless, and brings new light into the dark chambers of pessimism.’ So it is not only untrue, but also a little ungrateful, to dismiss the Christian faith as some obstacle to enlightened thought, some ancient, irrelevant creed wearing out its welcome in the modern world.

“Whether or not we acknowledge the source, Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament still provide the moral vocabulary we all use in America – and may it always be so.

“Try to separate the ideals from the source, as C.S. Lewis observed, and it’s like ‘a rebellion of the branches against the tree.’  Justice, equality, the worth of every life, the dignity of every person, and rights that no authority can take away – these are founding moral ideals in America, and they didn’t come out of nowhere.  “

But it was the Bush comments blasting the Obama administration (and the courts) for being religiously intolerant that made headlines.

“There are consequences when you don’t genuflect to the latest secular dogmas,” Bush said. “And those dogmas can be hard to keep up with.  So we find officials in a major city demanding that pastors turn over copies of their sermons.  Or federal judges mistaking themselves for elected legislators, and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the Constitution.  Or an agency dictating to a Catholic charity, the Little Sisters of the Poor, what has to go in their health plan – and never mind objections of conscience.  I don’t know about you, but I’m betting that when it comes to doing the right and good thing, the Little Sisters of the Poor know better than the regulators at the Department of Health and Human Services.

“From the standpoint of religious freedom, you might even say it’s a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother – and I’m going with the Sisters.

“That case continues, and, as usual, the present administration is supporting the use of coercive federal power. What should be easy calls, in favor of religious freedom, have instead become an aggressive stance against it.  Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn’t the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith.

“Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience – and in a free society, the answer is No.”

A Democratic National Committee spokesperson did not let those quotes go without response.

“To Jeb Bush, standing up against discrimination is small-minded and intolerant,” said the DNC’s Holly Shulman.” So much for being willing to lose the primary to win the general.”

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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