Meet Marco Rubio's 'Religious Liberty Advisory Board'

Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign has announced its creation of a Religious Liberty Advisory Board that includes Religious Right legal and political activists, including academics and some big names, like Rick Warren of Saddleback Church.

The list could be seen as a response by Rubio’s campaign to last month’s closed-door meeting at which “dozens” of Religious Right leaders voted to rally behind his rival, Sen. Ted Cruz. But Rubio’s director of Faith Outreach, former Manhattan Declaration Executive Director Eric Teetsel, told World Magazine that “membership on the board doesn’t equal an endorsement of the GOP candidate, and the members could advise other campaigns if they wanted.”

Among the members of Rubio’s advisory board are two Latinos who have urged conservatives to adopt a more welcoming approach to immigration: Samuel Rodriguez, head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, and  Carlos Campo, president of Ashland University and former president of Pat Robertson’s Regent University.

Rodriguez has been pushing the Republican Party to take a more constructive tone on immigration in order to open the door for more effective outreach to Latino voters, a tough sell on the right, even before the era of Donald Trump. Rodriguez has participated in recent Religious Right gatherings with Cruz, but has been quoted as saying he’s not in Cruz’s camp.

Rubio shaped and advocated for the so-called Gang of Eight immigration reform bill that passed the Senate in 2013, but he later disavowed his own bill in the face of strong right-wing opposition. He is viewed with suspicion by some right-wingers but has said on the stump that he knows how to fix the immigration system better than anyone else in the race.

Also on Rubio’s advisory board are people affiliated with legal groups promoting Religious Right efforts to portray LGBT equality and religious liberty as incompatible, including Doug Napier and Kellie Fiedorek of Alliance Defending Freedom and Kyle Duncan, lead counsel for the Green family, the owners of Hobby Lobby, and former general counsel of the Becket Fund, which was once described in Politico as “God’s Rottweilers.”

Formerly known as the Alliance Defense Fund, ADF is a heavyweight among Religious Right legal groups, and is spreading its anti-gay, anti-choice advocacy worldwide. Fiedorek argues that the “agenda to expand sexual liberty and redefine marriage” puts religious liberty in “great peril.” She has compared business owners who refuse to provide wedding-related services to same-sex couples to Rosa Parks.

The Greens’ challenge to the contraception coverage requirement under the Affordable Care Act was used by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority to reinterpret the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and give owners of for-profit corporations the right to seek exemptions from laws that offend their religious beliefs. 

Another member of the Rubio board, law professor Michael McConnell, runs a religious liberty law clinic at Stanford University that was funded by $1.6 million steered to Stanford by the Becket Fund in 2013. Becket Fund attorneys appear in Rick Santorum’s 2014 movie, “One Generation Away: The Erosion of Religious Liberty.”

Advisory board member Wayne Grudem, an anti-gay seminary professor and author, argues that God will hold people accountable for shaping laws to meet biblical standards. Grudem has promoted a chart on how to “defeat the enemy’s plan” in politics. He has said that religious freedom makes it legal in the U.S. to have a Muslim mosque or a Buddhist temple, “but that doesn’t mean it’s morally right for people to seek to come to God that way….”