Ted Cruz takes stand against 'war on faith', but stays clear of Trump comments

(Photo: REUTERS / Gary Cameron)U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas (3rd L), prays with members of the Christian Defense Coalition in front of the White House in Washington September 26, 2013. The event marked the one-year anniversary of Saeed Abedini, an Iranian American pastor who is serving eight years in an Iranian prison.

Nailing religion to his campaign mast, Ted Cruz has honed in on the U.S. evangelical vote, after declaring people of faith to be under assault in campaigning for his party's candidacy in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The Republican senator from Texas rallied evangelical voters while speaking at an Iowa state fair, taking a jab at an Academy-Award nominated actress over gay rights, on Aug. 21, The Washington Post reported.

Cruz was seeking to gain a toehold in an early voting state with a hefty number of evangelical Christians speaking at a well-choreographed "Rally for Religious Liberty."

But he steered clear of criticizing his party rival and frontrunner Donald Trump, whose contentious stand on immigrants and controversial comments on some women have railed to dent his early support.

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"There is a war on faith in America today," Cruz the son of an evangelical preacher said, alluding to 54 million evangelical Christians who he said did not vote during the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

"I'm here to tell you, we will stay home no longer," he said to a cheering audience, estimated at around 2,500 people, the Post said.

The speech is part of the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign in which members of the Republicans, or GOP, are battling for party nomination.

Cruz and actress Ellen Page had earlier engaged in a verbal exchange over gay rights at the state fair.

The presidential hopeful and the actress raised religious liberty and LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) discrimination.

Page asked Cruz about LGBT people being fired for being gay or transgender.

He said, "Well, what we're seeing right now, we're seeing Bible-believing Christians being persecuted for living according to their faith," The Hollywood Reporter noted.

"You're discriminating against LGBT people," Page said to Cruz, according to ABC News. The actress asked him if he would use that same argument when discussing segregation.

"Now I'm happy to answer your question, but not to have a back-and-forth debate," said Cruz.

"No one has the right to force someone else to abandon their faith and their conscience," he said.

The politician raised the narrative of a Christian florist denying wedding flowers to a gay couple.

"Imagine, hypothetically, you had a gay florist and imagine two Evangelicals wanted to get married and they decide, 'You know what, I disagree with your faith and I don't want to provide flowers,'" said Cruz.

In her speech, Page told the audience, "I'm here today because I am gay and because maybe I can make a difference, to help others have an easier and more hopeful time.

"Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility."

AVOIDING TRUMP

Cruz avoided to criticizing his GOP presidential rival Donald Trump, sidestepping a question about how the New York real estate magnate's values might play with evangelical voters, Holly Bailey of Yahoo Politics reported.

She noted that Trump is heading the Republican polls in Iowa, but said it is an open question as to whether Trump can sustain that lead in a state where social conservatives count among the most influential voting blocs in the Republican primary voting.

Trump is a former reality TV star who has married three times. Bailey said that last month he said in a frank declaration he has a tenuous relationship with religion, explaining at an Iowa faith conference he had never asked God for forgiveness.

The Yahoo reporter said Cruz could have seized upon such a remark to seized the initiative for evangelical votes from party rivals such as Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Scott Walker.

They all want to garner the support of social conservatives in Iowa.

But she noted that like other Republican candidates they seem reluctant to engage in open warfare with Trump, and pouncing on the party frontrunner's moral flaws.

Cruz was asked about Trump's faith at the Iowa fair, but skirted the question saying he was wanted to concentrate on ensuring the estimated 90 million US. evangelical voters turn out in the upcoming election.

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