Candidates defend religious freedom, marriage in South Carolina

GOP Presidential Candidates Debate In Myrtle Beach. Credit: Mark Wilson. Getty Images News/Getty Images
GOP Presidential Candidates Debate In Myrtle Beach. Credit: Mark Wilson. Getty Images News/Getty Images

.- Republican presidential candidates promised to uphold values such as religious liberty and traditional marriage at events in South Carolina, where the next primary election is slated to take place on Jan. 21.

“At every turn, at every issue that would reach my desk, I will stand up for the ability of Americans to worship God as they choose,” said Mitt Romney, who currently leads in polls across the state.

Romney vowed to protect America’s religious tradition while speaking at a Jan. 14 forum hosted by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee.

During the event at the Sottile Theatre at the College of Charleston, Romney was asked by participants how he would address “growing anti-Christian sentiment” in America.

The former Massachusetts governor responded that he would not add to what he called the secularization of America, but instead promote all citizens' rights to practice religion as they see fit.

“I think we ought to be able to have manger scenes at Christmastime and menorahs, representing other faiths,” he explained.

“We are a believing people,” Romney said. “The Declaration of Independence established our rights by saying that they were created not by government, but by the Creator.”

GOP contender Rick Perry also voiced support for religious freedom.

At a Jan. 16 debate at Myrtle Beach Convention Center, the Texas governor defended the principle of “ministerial exception” – recently upheld by the Supreme Court – that allows religious groups to hire and fire individuals on their own terms, without government interference.

Perry also said that the Obama administration “is at war against organized religion.” He criticized the administration for denying a grant request from the U.S. bishops to run a program aiding human trafficking victims.

“This administration won’t give them those dollars for sexually trafficked individuals because this administration doesn’t agree with the Catholic Church on the issue of abortion,” he said.

“If that’s not a war on religion, I don’t know what it is.”

Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum used the Jan. 16 debate to advocate the strengthening of marriage, family and traditional values as a means of solving other problems in society.

He was asked if “special steps” should be taken to address high levels of joblessness and poverty among African Americans.

Santorum pointed to a 2009 Brookings Institution study which found that Americans could reduce their rate of poverty to just two percent by graduating from high school, getting a job and getting married before having children.

“It’s a huge, huge opportunity for us,” he said.

The GOP hopeful criticized the Obama administration for failing to take advantage of the opportunity to reduce the poverty rate in America. Instead, he said, the administration is preventing organizations from helping young people make the choices that will fight poverty.

He referenced the Best Friends Foundation – an education program for at-risk girls, often in African American community – and said that the Obama administration has introduced new regulations telling the foundation’s members that they “can no longer promote marriage as a way of avoiding poverty.”

Nor are they allowed to continue teaching abstinence education, he added, because they “have to be neutral with respect to how people behave.”

“The problem is, neutrality ends in poverty,” Santorum said. “Neutrality ends in choices that hurt people’s lives.”

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