On Friday, social conservatives gathered in Washington, D.C. at the Annual Values Voter Summit. NBC's Domenico Montanaro reports.
Updated 1:02 p.m. - WASHINGTON -- Paul Ryan added a personal dimension to his attacks on President Barack Obama, using his own Catholic faith to criticize the president for having impinged upon the freedom of religion.
In a speech before activists at the annual Values Voter Summit -- interrupted twice by hecklers -- Ryan leveled attacks on Obama's foreign, economic and social policy.
"In the president’s telling, government is a big, benevolent presence -- gently guiding our steps at every turn. In reality, when government enters the picture, private institutions are so often brushed aside with suspicion or even contempt," Ryan said at the annual Values Voter Summit. "This is what happened to the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities this past January, when the new mandates of Obamacare started coming."
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The Republican vice presidential nominee continued: "Never mind your own conscience, they were basically told, from now on you’re going to do things the government’s way. Ladies and gentlemen, you would be hard pressed to find another group in America that does more to serve the health of women and their babies than the Catholic Church and Catholic Charities. And now, suddenly, we have Obamacare bureaucrats presuming to dictate how they will do it."
Ryan, who had agreed to address the nearly 2,000 person conference prior to being named as Mitt Romney's running mate, assured the crowd a Romney administration would give freedom back to religious institutions. Republicans have argued religious freedom has come under "attack" under the Obama administration, particularly due to a regulation requiring employers to cover contraception as part of their health insurance, even if it is an employer affiliated with a religion that might have philosophical objections to the use of contraception.
"As Governor Romney has said, this mandate is not a threat and insult to one religious group -- it is a threat and insult to every religious group. He and I are honored to stand with you -- people of faith and concerned citizens -- in defense of religious liberty," he said. “And I can assure you, when Mitt Romney is elected, we will get to work on day one to repeal that mandate and all of Obamacare.“
The House majority leader, Eric Cantor (R-VA), echoed this theme during his remarks at the event co-hosted by the Family Research Council.
"Sadly today, as a result of Obamacare, many of our fellow Americans are now being forced to take our government to court, to sue them, to sue our government in order to practice our faith. Now this is not what America is about and this is why we must repeal Obamacare once and for all," Cantor said, adding: "This is why we need a president and a senate who will stand up with us – who will stand strong for religious freedom."
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Religion wasn't the only focus of Ryan's nearly 30-minute speech. He also wadded into foreign policy just three days after the attacks on the US consulate in Libya and US embassy in Egypt.
"Look across that region today, and what do we see? The slaughter of brave dissidents in Syria. Mobs storming American embassies and consulates. Iran four years closer to gaining a nuclear weapon. Israel, our best ally in the region, treated with indifference bordering on contempt by the Obama administration," Ryan said.
"Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership. In the days ahead, and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose," he continued. "Only by the confident exercise of American influence are evil and violence overcome. That is how we keep problems abroad from becoming crises. That is what keeps the peace. And that is what we will have in a Romney-Ryan administration."
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There was no shortage in Ryan’s speech of new, quick attack lines on President Obama, either.
“No politician is more skilled at striking heroic poses against imaginary adversaries,” Ryan claimed. “Nobody is better at rebuking nonexistent opinions. Barack Obama does this all the time, and in this campaign we are calling him on it.”
Obama spokesman Danny Kanner responded: "Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan to be his running mate because he’s the intellectual leader of the Republican Party. That leadership included a budget that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said failed a ‘basic moral test.’ Today, speaking at a values summit, he unleashed a series of over-the-top, dishonest attacks against the President that once again reminded voters that he’s just not ready for prime time. In the not too distant past, Mitt Romney and Congressman Ryan said they wanted a serious debate on substantive issues. We’re still waiting."