Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry… (Mike Carlson / Associated…)
Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday went to the nation’s largest evangelical university to discuss his own feelings about religion and to urge students to get involved in the political process and not leave their futures to Washington officials.
Perry went to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., a safe venue for a conservative Christian such as himself to talk about how he was inspired by religion.
It was also a break from recent days when the front-runner in the GOP sweepstakes for the presidential nomination found himself under fire from fellow Republicans for his stands on Social Security and such cultural issues as Perry’s move to require Texas girls to be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer. Some conservatives see such required vaccinations as an invasion of government power.
Perry didn’t wade into controversial waters, though he indirectly defended his criticism of Social Security without naming the program or repeating previous inflammatory language. He has argued that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme because it moves money to the elderly from the young, who will likely not have the same level of benefits as their parents and grandparents.
“Don’t muzzle your voice because you’re young,” Perry told the students. His comments were broadcast live on the Web by the university.
“You have the right like every American to speak your mind,” he said. He urged the students to act because their futures were being mortgaged.
“This is your country as well, don’t leave it a to bunch of Washington politicians to tell you how to live your life. This is your future we are debating today. Don’t be silent,” he said.
Polls show that Perry is leading his principal rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has been hitting Perry hard on the Social Security issue.
As he has in other forums, Perry spoke movingly of how he turned to God after leaving the Air Force. Evangelicals are a key voting group in the early caucus and primary states and form part of Perry’s core constituency.
“I had nowhere else to turn,” Perry recounted. “ I was 27. I was lost spiritually and emotionally and I didn’t know how to fix it.”
He then reminded the students that god “doesn’t require perfect people to execute his perfect plan.”
Liberty University was founded in 1971 by noted evangelist Jerry Falwell and his son serves as the current chancellor. On its website, the younger Falwell describes the school as “the largest private nonprofit university in the nation, the largest university in Virginia, and the largest Christian university in the world.”