Rick Warren named to Marco Rubio's new religious liberty advisory board

by Tobin Perry, |
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Lake Forest, Calif., celebrated 35 years as pastor March 22, 2015. | Saddleback video/SCREEN SHOT

MIAMI (Christian Examiner)—Senator Marco Rubio's presidential campaign has announced the formation of a new religious liberty advisory board headlined by megachurch pastor Rick Warren.

The next president must stand up and defend the religious liberty of all citizens.

The new board includes a number of evangelicals, including Warren, Wayne Gruden, Samuel Rodriquez and Thomas Kidd.

"The next president must stand up and defend the religious liberty of all citizens," said Eric Teetsel, the Marco Rubio for President's director of faith outreach, in a statement on the board's formation.

"Marco and our team are honored to have at our disposal the collective wisdom of America's foremost defenders of religious liberty. This diverse group represents men and women of many faiths and perspectives, including academics, pastors, and advocates," Teetsel said. "We intend to take full advantage of their input and wisdom as Senator Rubio fights to protect American's religious liberty in the 21st Century."

Best known as the senior pastor of one of the country's largest evangelical churches and the best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life, Warren has made religious liberty issues a significant part of his message in recent years.

In 2012, he called religious liberty the "civil rights issue of the next decade." He also cancelled a public forum at Saddleback that would have included President Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney just months before the election in part because he wanted to focus on a later forum that centered on religious liberty, a topic he called more important at the time.

Despite being asked by President Obama in 2009 to give the invocation at his first inaugural address, Warren has been critical of the president's record on religious liberty issues. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Warren called Obama "absolutely" unfriendly to religion and said his policies "intentionally infringed upon religious liberties."

Rubio has also shown a broad interest in recent years on religious liberty issues.

The Florida senator co-sponsored a bill in 2012 to repeal an Obama administration decision to force religious organizations to cover contraceptives as part of the president's Affordable Care Act.

Last year, Rubio also publically supported Indiana's controversial religious freedom law that attempted to protect individuals from being compelled to provide services that they disagreed with on a religious basis, such as a gay-marriage ceremony.

In 2013 Rubio talked about religious liberty in his keynote address at Florida Family Policy Council's annual policy awards dinner, and afterwards discussed the issue with author and radio host, Eric Metaxas.

"Religious liberty is not just the right thing to do," Rubio told Metaxas. "It is a constitutional principle in this country, one of the key ones," Rubio said. "And we should speak loudly and clearly about that and I think we need to make more people aware that that's what's happening now—that there is an effort to silence those or to crowd out of its rightful place the role of the faith community in our country.

"The government cannot tell you what faith to belong to," Rubio continued, "but it [also] cannot tell you that you cannot speak about your faith. And that's what I think we need to be leading on and making people more aware of."

In its introduction of the advisory board, the campaign's press release said: "Marco is a leader of faith who understands that our country was rooted in the principle of religious liberty. As he strives to uphold this founding principle, he seeks guidance from faith leaders across the country who are dedicated to defending it."

The full advisory board includes:

  • Dr. Carlos Campo, president, Ashland University
  • Vincent Bacote, Ph.D., associate professor of theology and director of Center for Applied Christian Ethics, Wheaton College
  • Kyle Duncan, former general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and lead counsel for the Green family in the Hobby Lobby case
  • Tom Farr, Ph.D., Director, Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs and associate professor of the Practice of Religion and World Affairs, Georgetown University
  • Kellie Fiedorek, legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom
  • Wayne Grudem, Ph.D., research professor of theology and biblical studies, Phoenix Seminary
  • The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, chancellor, St. Vladimir's Orthodox Seminary
  • Dr. Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history and associate director, Institute for Studies of Religion, Baylor University
  • Dr. Daniel Mark, Villanova University; commissioner, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
  • Michael McConnell, Richard and Frances Mallery Professor and director of the Constitutional Law Center, Stanford University Law School
  • Doug Napier, senior counsel and executive vice president, Alliance Defending Freedom
  • Rev. Dr. Samuel Rodriguez, president, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
  • Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel; director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought, Yeshiva University
  • Rick Warren, founding pastor of Saddleback Church
  • Thomas White, Ph.D., president and professor of theology, Cedarville University