Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, who will take a lead role in a 50-state campaign to end taxpayer support for Planned Parenthood this week, spoke about America's "war on faith" to more than 2,500 Evangelicals and conservative voters at a rally in Des Moines, Iowa.
"There is a war on faith in America today, in our lifetime," the U.S. senator from Texas told the crowd, according to MSNBC. "Did we ever imagine that in the land of the free and home of the brave, we would be witnessing our government persecute its citizens for their faith?"
The threats to religious freedom of Christians have been growing, he said. "They have been growing for decades but never have the threats been greater to religious liberty than they are right here and now today," he added, speaking to the crowd at the Iowa Events Center Friday night.
"These threats are not imagined, they're not made up," he stressed. "These are real people leading real lives who found themselves facing persecution simply for living out their faith. There is a war on faith in America today."
Onstage with Cruz were some of those who had faced persecution due to their religious beliefs.
"They didn't ask for confrontation and the government came to them and said, 'Choose between faith and obedience to government power,' and they said, 'I follow a higher power and that is God almighty,'" Cruz said.
Betty Odgaard, who, along with her husband, Dick, was sued for refusing to host a same-sex couple's wedding at their venue, which used to be a church, shared her story.
"We had worked for 13-and-a-half years to build this business and we lived there six days a week. So it was very difficult to close the doors and walk away," she was quoted as saying.
"People and the media attempt to criticize you as somehow intolerant, and yet what is the tolerance that has been demonstrated to you for following a biblical teaching?" Cruz continued. "You have endured the pain, endured the attacks, endured the hatred, that precisely put you where you are here today … Dick, you talked about not knowing where your friends are. Well let me point out, there are 3,000 Iowans."
As a solution, Cruz urged Christians to go out and vote in elections.
"You wonder why we have a federal government that comes after our free-speech rights, that comes after our religious liberty, that comes after life, that comes after marriage, that comes after our values — it is because 54 million evangelical Christians stayed home," he said, referring to the 2012 presidential election, according to Texas Tribune. "Well, I'm here to tell you, we will stay home no longer."
Cruz is recruiting pastors in all of Iowa's 99 counties to reach out to Christians.
The day after the Iowa rally, email invitations were sent out to more than 100,000 pastors, requesting them to join Cruz in conference calls Tuesday to help mobilize church members in every congressional district beginning Aug. 30, according to The Washington Post.
"The recent exposure of Planned Parenthood's barbaric practices ... has brought about a pressing need to end taxpayer support of this institution," Cruz wrote in the e-mail that was distributed by the American Renewal Project.
The protest comes after the release of a series of undercover Planned Parenthood videos show Planned Parenthood's employees discussing the sell of aborted babies' body parts. An eighth video, set to be released by by the pro-life Center for Medical Progress over the next few days, reportedly shows the abortion provider selling babies born alive in their abortion clinics.