Senator decries threats to religious liberty

While being interrupted frequently by applause Wednesday, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, laid out planks of a "God and Country" political platform during an address to the 95th National Convention of The American Legion. Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, is widely considered a leading contender for the Republican party’s 2016 presidential candidacy.

Cruz began his 13 minutes of unscripted remarks – presented in front of the podium rather than behind it - with a topical reference. “I want to talk to you this afternoon about liberty,” he said. “Liberty as it relates to our veterans.

“We have seen in recent days the IRS sadly targeting The American Legion,” he said. “We have seen the IRS demanding of American Legion posts that they keep records on the veterans who are members of each post and, indeed, we have seen posts in Texas... fined $12,000 for not keeping records on our veterans.

“That’s wrong,” Cruz said. “It’s fundamentally wrong. And, let me be clear, the IRS has within its ability to stop doing that right now - today. And they should... return the fines to the American Legion post so they can put it to good work in making a difference.”

This is evidence, Cruz says, that the IRS should be abolished.

“We should abolish the IRS,” Cruz said. “(But) that will only happen if there is a groundswell from the American people; a groundswell limiting the power of Washington and empowering every American so that we can fill out our taxes on a simple flat tax – a postcard.”

Cruz then turned his attention to “... another kind of liberty. A liberty every bit as important as our liberty to speak out and be free of intrusion by the IRS. And, that’s religious liberty.”

The Texas Republican then recalled “the great honor” he felt while in private law practice “of representing The American Legion before the United States Supreme Court defending the constitutionality of the Mojave Desert veterans memorial.”

Cruz’s reference was to a case in which the Legion filed a “friend of the court” brief that argued against tearing down a California desert memorial to World War I veterans. A plaintiff, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), had objected to the memorial, on federal property at the time, because it depicted a cross that could be interpreted as a religious symbol. Thus – the argument went – the 75-year-old monument violated the principle of separation of church and state. The matter was eventually resolved with a change of ownership upon which the cross resides.

Cruz continued on his theme of religious freedom. “I was also proud to represent The American Legion here in Houston when the VA implemented a policy that said volunteers at the funeral of a serviceman or servicewoman who had lost his or her life defending our nation could not say to the grieving family, ‘God bless you.’ The VA tried to muzzle the families and loved ones, and I was honored to represent The American Legion filing litigation against the VA. Their policy was so indefensible (that) they decided to abandon it, settle the lawsuit and restore the liberty of our veterans.”

Cruz recalled his arguments against limitations to expressions of religious views by servicemembers, then ended his remarks with a recounting of the well-known “Patton’s prayer” tale from World War II. As the story goes, Gen. George S. Patton and his Third Army were hopelessly bogged down by torrential rain and mud as they attempted to advance against German troops in late 1944. Patton, it is said, commissioned an Army chaplain to write an appeal to God to halt the deluge. At Patton’s direction, 250,000 copies of the prayer were then printed and distributed to American soldiers. Days later, the rain subsided.

Cruz quoted Patton as saying at the time, “These rains are that margin that hold defeat or victory. If we all pray, it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.”