— -- Jeb Bush today blasted the Obama administration's "use of coercive federal power" to limit religious freedom.
"Somebody here is being small-minded and intolerant, and it sure isn't the nuns, ministers, and laymen and women who ask only to live and practice their faith," Bush said during a commencement address at Liberty University, the Christian college where Sen. Ted Cruz announced his presidential bid less than two months ago. "Federal authorities are demanding obedience, in complete disregard of religious conscience -- and in a free society, the answer is no."
Bush, who has not yet declared, is nevertheless fighting to win over the GOP's powerful -- and deeply conservative -- evangelical wing.
In his speech, the former Florida governor condemned federal judges for "mistaking themselves for elected legislators and imposing restrictions and rights that do not exist in the constitution."
Referencing the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity that fought before the Supreme Court for an exemption to the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate, he said, "you might even say it's a choice between the Little Sisters and Big Brother -- and I'm going with the Little Sisters."
"How strange, in our own time, to hear Christianity spoken of as some sort of backward and oppressive force," said Bush, a Catholic. "It is not only untrue, but it's also a little ungrateful, to dismiss the Christian faith as some obstacle to enlightened thought."
In another jab at Obama, whose rocky relationship with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has troubled many conservatives, Bush demanded that the United States defend persecuted Jews as well as Christians.
"Wherever Jews are subjected to the oldest bigotry, we reject those sins against our brothers and sisters -- and we defend them," he said.
"Set the standard with your belief that everyone matters, and that everyone has the right to rise," he said, subtly invoking the name of his PAC, Right to Rise.