January 20, 2016

‘Believe whatever you want,’ Rubio tells atheist

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U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign event in Coralville, Iowa, on January 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-RUBIO-ATHEIST, originally transmitted on Jan. 20, 2016.

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio speaks at a campaign event in Coralville, Iowa, on January 18, 2016. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-RUBIO-ATHEIST, originally transmitted on Jan. 20, 2016.

WAVERLY, Iowa — Confronted by an “activist atheist,” Marco Rubio said he’ll champion a country where “no one is forced to violate their conscience.”

“No one is going to force you to believe in God, but no one is going to force me to stop talking about God,” said the Florida senator, prompting applause and a whistle of support from the crowd at a campaign appearance.

During a town hall on Monday morning (Jan. 18), Justin Scott, 34, of Waterloo asked about Rubio’s new ad, explaining that he and other atheists are “looking for somebody that will uphold their rights as Americans, and not pander to a certain religious group,” he said.

In the commercial, Rubio does not mention specific political policy but discusses how “our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our creator for all time. To accept the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus Christ.”

“You have a right to believe whatever you want,” said Rubio, a Roman Catholic, in response. “You have a right to believe in nothing at all.”


RELATED STORY: 5 faith facts about Marco Rubio: ‘Once a Catholic, always a Catholic’


Rubio went on to explain how his faith has been the “single greatest influence in my life, and from that I’ll never hide.”

The ad may signal a greater appeal by Rubio to social conservatives, in addition to the business-minded voters who are backing him, said Chris Larimer, a political science professor at the University of Northern Iowa.

Rubio and his supporters have said he will unite the Republican Party.

But in Iowa, the two branches of the party have been drawn to different candidates. In 2012, for example, many evangelical voters supported Rick Santorum while establishment voters backed Mitt Romney.

“I think what he’s trying to do is put a foot in both pants,” Larimer said.

Social conservatives have become an increasingly important voting bloc in Iowa and could total 40 percent of likely caucusgoers this year, he said.  “He’s emphasizing faith this late in the campaign; that would suggest to me that his campaign sees an opening there,” Larimer said.

Rubio is third place in Iowa, with nearly 12 percent, according to a rolling average of polls. And on either side are two rivals who have appealed greatly to evangelical voters: Ted Cruz, with nearly 27 percent, and Ben Carson, with nearly 9 percent.


RELATED STORY: Sarah Palin endorses Donald Trump with a ‘hallelujah’ aimed at evangelical voters


But others question whether a faith-based ad will have the same effect as discussing his religious views in person. Cruz, for example, has campaigned at churches and discussed his Christian beliefs more frequently in Iowa as part of his 99-county tour.

David Andersen, a political science professor at Iowa State University, said that Rubio’s use of a commercial to share his faith runs the risk of seeming “impersonal.”

But after Rubio shared his beliefs Monday morning, Deb Berstler said she was impressed with his candor and sincerity.

She expects candidates such as Mike Huckabee, a pastor, to discuss their faith on the campaign trail — and said it was refreshing to hear it from Rubio.

“I think it’s the first time I ever heard a candidate present his faith as deeply and extensively as he did,” said the 64-year-old, noting Rubio answered the atheist’s question respectfully. “That’s going to set him apart.”

(Mackenzie Ryan reported this story for the Des Moines Register)

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  • samuel johnston

    “..our goal is eternity, the ability to live alongside our creator for all time. To accept the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus Christ.”
    Who is “our” Mr Rubio?
    Marco Rubio continues to impress me as a shallow opportunist, even by the low standards of political presidential candidates.

  • Re: “You have a right to believe whatever you want,” said Rubio, a Roman Catholic, in response. “You have a right to believe in nothing at all.”

    Gee, thanks Marco! You know, until you told us all that, I had NO FREAKING IDEA that I was allowed to believe “whatever I want,” including “nothing at all.” How magnanimous of you to offer that freedom to me, and to other non-believers!

  • John Halloran

    Another thing I think we need to be pushing back against is this flippant attitude on the part of many believers which equates not believing in god(s) with”believing in nothing”.
    Most of us believe in quite a few things. It’s just that god(s) in general—as well as their god in particular—are not among them.

  • rthistle

    he mentioned that he didn’t know how atheist “had rights” except THRU GOD! i guess he was trying to say god wrote the constitution? not sure.

    but he actually mad e EXCELLENT POINT about something……LIKE THE BIBLE, the constitution was written BY men FOR men.

    WITHOUT AMENDMENTS i wouldn’t have the right to vote, neither would blacks. YOUR GOD doesn’t want me speaking in church, questioning religion, or having authority over men…..so yeah id say YOUR GOD and the men who wrote the constitution were exactly on the same page.
    unfortunately women are just too smart for your lies, mr rubio. and i resereve the right to openly mock you at every chance i get