Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz announced on Monday the formation of a 19-member "Religious Liberty Advisory Council" that will be chaired by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
The council was formed to help shape the Texas senator's policies to best protect religious freedom and "reverse the unprecedented attacks on freedom both at home and abroad," a press release shared with The Christian Post explained.
"Religious liberty is the top issue for Americans of faith in this election," Cruz said in a statement. "People of faith must be free to live according to their convictions without being second-guessed or shut down by the federal government. Today I am proud to be joined by such a knowledgeable and committed group of leaders to advance our first freedom."
Perkins will be joined on the council by other prominent evangelical religious freedom advocates, including Heritage Foundation senior fellows Ryan Anderson and William E. Simon, former HGTV stars Jason and David Benham, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Ken Blackwell.
"I am honored to join Ted Cruz's Religious Liberty Advisory Council at such a critical time in the history of this nation," Perkins, who is also the chair of the Pro-Lifers for Cruz coalition, said in a statement.
"Never before has religious freedom been more endangered than it is today under the policies of the Obama administration," he continued. "We need a president who upon entering office will immediately begin reversing the damage done to our freedom to believe and our ability to live according to those beliefs."
According to the release, Cruz has pledged that if he is elected president, he will instruct the Department of Justice, the Internal Revenue Service and other federal agencies on his first day in office to stop trampling on the religious liberties of American citizens through government coercion.
"Religious liberty is the first freedom guaranteed to Americans under the Constitution, and ensuring the protection of that right has been a priority my entire adult life," Cruz asserted. "Increasingly, renegade government officials seek to coerce people of faith either to act in a manner that violates their faith or forfeit their career. When I am elected president, that will change. It is time for our liberties to be respected in Washington. The right to religious liberty built America, and denying that right is both un-American and morally wrong."
Also named to the council are a number of pastors, including conservative San Diego megachurch pastor Jim Garlow, pastor Mark Harris from First Baptist Church in Charlotte, Bishop Harry Jackson from Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, Maryland, and Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference. Rodriguez was also named as a member of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio's religious freedom advisory board, and Anderson is also on Rubio's marriage and family advisory board.
Additionally, pastor Steven Riggle from Grace Community Church in Houston, Texas, who was one of the five Houston pastors whose sermons were subpoenaed by Houston Mayor Annise Parker in 2014, was also named to Cruz's advisory council.
To provide legal and educational expertise, a number of professors and lawyers were also named to the council, such as First Liberty Institute's Kelly Shackelford; Everett Piper, the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University; and Carol Swain, political science and law professor at Vanderbilt University.
The press release adds that members' inclusion in Cruz's religious liberty council should not be considered endorsements for Cruz for president.
"While Ted has been effective on an array of national issues, he hasn't strayed from his theme, which is that 2016 is going to be a 'religious liberty election,'" Perkins added. "This continues to resonate with Americans, who open their newspapers every day to a new story of religious hostility. I am confident that Ted Cruz, who has spent his career defending religious liberty in the courts and in the Senate, can be trusted and is prepared to make freedom mean something again in America."