The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference has launched a campaign called “Free to Preach,” which the Christian Broadcasting Network says is meant to “make sure the right to freedom of religion in America includes the freedom to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In a written statement, NHCLC President Samuel Rodriguez said the “sweeping campaign” will activate the Latino community to “pushback darkness and protect the right to preach in Jesus’ name.”
“In essence, we want Christians to build a firewall against secular totalitarianism and moral relativism by protecting and defending religious liberty with truth and love in the name of Jesus,” Rodriguez said in a press release.
Of course, there is no real threat to Rodriguez’s right to preach as he likes. His 30-state tour—which just happens to focus primarily on 2020 swing states—appears designed to spread fear among Latino evangelicals that Democratic political victories will spell the end of religious freedom. That was a strategy Rodriguez and other religious–right leaders used to swell evangelical support and turnout for Trump in the last presidential election.
In 2016, Rodriguez told voters that his ability to preach “about what the Bible may deem as sinful” was at stake in the election. Speaking specifically to Christian voters who might have been tempted to sit out 2016 given their dissatisfaction with Trump as a candidate, Rodriguez told them that “staying home may very well jeopardize my ability as a pastor to reach people with the loving gospel of Jesus Christ.” Getting an anti-abortion Supreme Court was more important than Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, he told evangelicals in Latino communities.
Rodriguez even used the “Jezebel” rhetoric that so many of Trump’s “prophetic” supporters have been using lately. During the presidential campaign, Rodriguez said there was a Jezebel spirit in the land, one that intimidated and threatened Christians based on fear and hatred of Christianity and the “biblical” worldview.
Rodriguez was rewarded for his 2016 efforts by being asked to pray at Trump’s inauguration. And he has continued to give Trump cover, even when voicing disagreement with administration immigration policies.
Rodriguez’s new “Free to Preach” tour is being supported by the Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal giant that is, with the help of conservative judges, seeking to redefine “religious liberty” to give business owners broad latitude to ignore nondiscrimination laws and more. When Trump was sworn in as president, Rodriguez said that Trump could be counted on to nominate Supreme Court justices who would save religious liberty from people he said were trying to force Christians to “sacrifice truth on the altar of political or cultural expediency.”
While Rodriguez likes to posture that he is above partisan politics—claiming he pursues neither the agenda of the donkey or the elephant, but that of the lamb (referring to Jesus)—he has a long history of trying to get more Latino voters to support Republican candidates. He once taped a video ad for the Republican National Committee’s faith outreach program. And he is a promoter of the Koch network’s LIBRE initiative, for which he has argued that right-wing economic policies are biblical. He has denounced the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision.
Earlier this year, Rodriguez joined an effort to bolster the prospects of the Republican Party in California. “The Republican Party needs to have a come-to-Jesus moment with the Latino community,” he said, which it could do by embracing the community’s values of life, liberty, entrepreneurship, and justice, he explained. If the party does that, he added, “the Latino community could reinvigorate and resurrect the Republican Party in a viable and sustainable manner in the state of California.”