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Sen. Cruz: ‘Thank You, American Legion, for Defending Our First Liberty’

Delivers remarks and receives the Philip B. Onderdonk Jr. Religious Liberty Award from First Liberty Institute and the American Legion

RENO, Nev. – U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today delivered remarks at the American Legion 2017 National Convention in Reno, Nev., where he accepted the Philip B. Onderdonk Jr. Religious Liberty Award from First Liberty Institute and the American Legion.

“I pledge to you,” Sen. Cruz said, “that I’m committed to working hand in hand with the President, the administration, with Congress, to rebuild the military to ensure that our service men and women have every resource, every training, and every tool, to keep this nation safe. To defeat our enemies. And to preserve our nation.”

Sen. Cruz’s full remarks may be viewed here and below. Still photos of Sen. Cruz’s visit will be available here. A video about the Onderdonk award and Sen. Cruz’s work may be found here

“God bless the American Legion. What an incredible, incredible privilege to be with each of you. What a privilege to be with heroes and patriots. It is humbling and it is powerful that when we live in an era when someone who can throw a ball, or sing a song is called a hero to be reminded that the real one percent are the men and women gathered here. The real one percent comes from those who answered the call and rose up to defend our nation and fought and bled and far too many who died to protect our freedom.

“I am honored to be with you, I thank you, I salute you, and in particular, I want today thank you for your commitment to defending our first liberty. To defending religious liberty. When our nation was founded, we fought a bloody revolution. A war with guns and bayonets, where a handful of scrappy revolutionaries defeated what was then the mightiest armada on the face of the earth.

“But it wasn’t just a revolution of arms we fought. It was a revolution of ideas. Because the ideas behind the American founding transformed the world. We began with two fundamental propositions. Number one, that our rights, they don’t come from a king, they don’t come from a queen, they don’t come from a president, rather they come from God Almighty. As the Declaration so powerfully put it, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,’ and that we are endowed not by a king, not by a queen, not by a president, we are ‘endowed by our Creator, with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’

“When each of you took up arms to defend our nation, those are the rights, those are the freedoms you were defending. And the second revolution of ideas is from time and memorial, we had been told power emanates from the top, it emanates from the monarch. The American Revolution upended that – we said, ‘power, sovereignty comes from down up, it comes from we the people.’

“And our Founders created what Thomas Jefferson called ‘a Constitution to bind the mischief of government.’ Well in modern days, there’s a lot of mischief of government. That right, that first liberty, religious liberty, the right for every one of us to seek out the Lord, God Almighty with all of hearts, minds and souls to live according to our faith, without government getting in the way, that is foundation to everything else.

“And I want to commend the American Legion, because it would have been easy for you to sit back and say ‘you know what, I stood and fought, I gave my service. My time is done.’ But the American Legion, the patriots in this room and across the country, you cannot leave a man on the battlefield, and you cannot stop fighting for the country you love.

“When you look at faith and religious liberty, one of the great blessings I’ve had is meeting across the state of Texas and across the country so many chaplains who have served. Can everyone here who has been an active duty, or a retired chaplain in the military I would ask you if you’d please stand so we can thank you and recognize you.

“The service of so many chaplains for centuries has made such a profound difference to our soldiers, and sailors and airmen and marines. And yet we saw just a few years ago an air force chaplain in the state of Alaska reprimanded because he wrote a blog post saying, ‘there are no atheists in fox holes.’

“His political superiors reprimanded him for doing that. I guess they thought he was being insensitive to atheists. I kind of thought that was a chaplain’s job. To welcome and embrace them with God’s forgiving love. But it’s interesting if you look at that phrase, ‘there are no atheists in fox holes,’ it can be traced back to a 1954 speech that President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave to the American Legion.

“Now I’d note, President Eisenhower had some passing familiarity with the military. And President Eisenhower in that speech, he told the tale of what’s come to be known as the four immortal chaplains. The USS Dorchester coming off the tip of Greenland was hit by a German U-boat and the boat began to sink. There were four chaplains aboard the Dorchester, two who were Protestant, one who was Catholic, one who was Jewish. And as the boat began to go down, they looked around and realized there were not enough life jackets for the people on board. So each of those chaplains took the life jacket he had around his neck and he put it around the neck of another man. And when those chaplains did so, they didn’t ask that man in front of them, ‘Are you Catholic? Are you Protestant? Are you a Jew?’ He simply gave his life that the other man might live. And those four chaplains, arm in arm, began singing and praying and went down with the ship, giving their lives so their brothers might live. That truly is the definition of love. And the idea that we have had litigating organizations and political appointees that would want to make it a punishable offense to acknowledge God truly staggers the mind.

“Another example that we saw in my home state for Texas in Houston, the VA directed the American Legion and other private organizations, other private clergy, that if you were presiding over a military funeral, you could not invoke the name of God, you could not say Jesus, and you could not say God. This is the VA saying God’s name is not allowed at a military funeral. And a Houston pastor, who refused to be silenced, brought a lawsuit. The American Legion brought me in to represent you, and I was honored to represent the American Legion and that pastor fighting for religious liberty. And we won defending that fundamental liberty.

“Yet another example in recent years, we saw the prior administration litigating against the Little Sisters of the Poor. Now what are the Little Sisters of the Poor? A Catholic charity of nuns who have taken vows of poverty. They devote their lives to caring for the poor and the elderly. The Obama administration litigated against them arguing that the nuns must be fined millions of dollars unless they agree to pay for abortion inducing drugs and others.

“Now let me tell y’all a very, very simple rule of thumb. If you’re litigating against nuns, you’ve probably done something wrong. By the way, if you’re litigating against the American Legion, you’ve definitely done something wrong. That case, the Little Sisters of the Poor, went all the way to the Supreme Court. I’m pleased to tell you the new administration with President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have come in with a renewed commitment to religious liberty and they are no longer persecuting the Little Sisters of the Poor.

“Yet another example, one that my friend Kelly talked about. The Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial. This is their lone, white Latin cross in the middle of the Mojave Desert, erected to honor the men and women who gave their lives in World War I. [It] has stood there for over 80 years, until one day the ACLU came along. And they were offended. Let me just say for a minute, everyone who gets offended at everything they see, can’t everyone just chill out? Look, I see nuts doing offensive things all day long. You don’t have to whine about it. And you don’t have to run to a federal court, and say, ‘Oh, oh, guard my eyes!’ The ACLU filed a lawsuit seeking to tear down that monument in the federal district court - they won. The Federal Court of Appeal - they won. The federal court ordered that 80-year old veterans memorial to be covered with a burlap sack with a chain and a padlock at the bottom because the federal court concluded you could not gaze upon the image of a cross on public lands. Well I’ll agree with the court on one thing: there is power in the image of a cross.

“Well there American Legion, as has been your pattern and practice, did not shy away from the fight. You stood forward to fight, to preserve that veterans’ memorial and I was incredibly privileged to be lawyer pro-bono for free defending that memorial. We went before the U.S. Supreme Court, Kelly Shackelford, and I on behalf of the American Legion, on behalf of millions of veterans across this nation, defending religious liberty, and we won 5-4.

“But it was 5-4. Those stakes should give you pause. We were one justice away from the Supreme Court ordering ‘tear down that veterans’ memorial’. And mark my words, when they tear down the cross on veterans’ memorial in the middle of desert, we are but moments away from the next order to tear down the tombstone with the cross or Star of David lined one after the other, after the other, after the other. That’s not America. That’s not who we are. Those are not the fundamental freedoms and values everyone, regardless of your faith, regardless if you have no faith, America protects your right to live according to your faith and conscious. It’s not government that should be an enemy of religious faith.

“So I want to say to the men and women gathered here, thank you. Thank you for standing and answering the call. We face a dangerous time in our nation’s history. We face enemies abroad that are getting more and more dangerous. That are on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons or have nuclear weapons. We face radical Islamic terrorists that seek murder and mayhem. And we face a military whose readiness has been degraded for far too many years. And I pledge to you, I’m committed to working hand in hand with the President, the administration, with Congress, to rebuild the military to ensure that our service men and women have every resource, every training, every tool, to keep this nation safe. To defeat our enemies. And to preserve our nation.

“For those who have served for the veterans, I remain committed to ensuring we that honor our commitment to you, our solemn commitment to every veteran. And that includes when it comes to health care, I believe every veteran should have the right to choose your doctor whoever that doctor may be. We should strengthen and improve the VA, but at the same time give veterans the ability that if you choose you want to go to the cardiologist down the street, you ought to have the right to make the choice for your health care.

“And then I give you my solemn pledge: the fight to defend religious liberty, the fight to defend the First Amendment and the Second Amendment. By the way, I had four people say to me make sure there wasn’t a chamber or a round in that rifle. There wasn’t. And all of our fundamental rights, I give you my solemn pledge that just as each of you have risen to the occasion over and over again to defend our lives, our rights, our freedoms, that I will continue to be honored to stand shoulder to shoulder with you in that same fight for that same freedom that makes this nation, the United States, the greatest nation in the history of the world.

“Thank you and God bless you!”