Cruz calls on conservatives to defend religious freedom — at home and abroad

'If you're litigating against nuns, you are probably doing something wrong,' the Texas senator says

Two of the Republican Party's rising stars opened the Faith & Freedom Coalition's annual conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday by calling on social conservatives to rise up in their fight to defend religious freedom and family values from threats both at home and abroad.

"The idea that our federal government is going after our religious liberty now is just astonishing and heartbreaking," Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told the crowd gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. "No time in our nation's history have we seen threats like these to our religious liberty."

Cruz said he was "honored to defend" the display of the Ten Commandments on the Texas state Capitol grounds, the Pledge of Allegiance and a veterans memorial cross in the Mojave Desert. In all three cases, he said, "We went to the Supreme Court, and we won."

Cruz blasted the IRS for its targeting of the tea party and other conservative groups.

"The federal government has no business asking any American what books they read," he said.

Cruz also took the Obama administration to task for taking its case against the Colorado-based Little Sisters of the Poor — over a form the nuns say violates their religious beliefs — all the way to the Supreme Court.

"It's simple," Cruz said. "If you're litigating against nuns, you are probably doing something wrong."

The tea party favorite said religious liberty is under attack abroad — and he blamed the Obama administration for that, too.

"We see our foreign policy collapsing every week as the world is getting more and more dangerous," Cruz said. As a result, "Christians are being persecuted in stunning numbers."

Cruz called on the White House to demand the release of Meriam Yahya Ibrahim Ishag, a Christian woman who was sentenced to death in Sudan under Islamic law for her religious beliefs. She remains in prison, where she gave birth to twins.

"We need the United States to say in no uncertain terms, 'Send Meriam home,'" Cruz said.

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned her detention and conviction in a statement last week. "She and the children should be reunited at home with her family rather than held in prison on charges of apostasy," he said.

Earlier, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio — who, like Cruz, is on a short list of possible candidates for the 2016 GOP nomination — urged attendees to protect family values.

"We must reinvigorate the role of values in this country," Rubio said. "The good news is we still have time to reclaim the American dream."

The three-day conference, hosted by Christian political activist Ralph Reed, is scheduled to include speeches from Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.