Faith & Freedom forum: 2024 Republicans say they’ll fight ‘gender ideology, ‘woke’ beliefs

By: and - April 22, 2023 10:06 pm

Attendees of the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event in Clive heard video remarks from former President Donald Trump Saturday, April 22. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Defending religious freedoms means taking on “radical gender ideology,” allowing churches to not accept gay marriages and supporting abortion restrictions, potential and announced Republican presidential candidates told Iowans Saturday.

More than 1,200 people attended the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition spring kick-off event Saturday at the Horizon Event Center in Clive. The event was one of the first “cattle calls” of the 2024 Republican presidential nominating cycle.

Republican Party pf Iowa chair Jeff Kaufmann and Faith & Freedom Coalition leaders also spoke during the event. Kaufmann said while Iowa Democrats may have lost the first-in-the-nation caucuses title, Republicans are staying first. Iowa Republicans are excited to vet the candidate to take on President Joe Biden, he said.

“The Democrats might have screwed up first in the nation, but the Republicans, we are first in the nation,” Kaufmann said.

Kaufmann and Iowa Attorney General Brenna Bird moderated discussions with each speaker, keeping a tight schedule to speak with the nine out-of-state guests and Iowa Republican leaders in roughly two hours.

Announced presidential candidates including former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and Perry Johnson addressed the Iowa crowd. Former Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Tim Scott, who are expected to announce 2024 runs, also spoke. Former President Donald Trump addressed the crowd in a video call.

The speakers praised Iowa for passing measures like banning gender-affirming medical care for minors, a private school scholarship program and for Gov. Kim Reynolds’ court fight to allow enforcement of Iowa’s six-week “fetal heartbeat” abortion law. Faith & Freedom Coalition lobbyist Jeff Pitts thanked Iowa legislators for standing up to harsh criticism this legislative session.

“Iowa-elected Republican representatives accomplished difficult objectives,” Pitts said. “But after achieving these milestones, our greatest servants endure an onslaught daily of hate and vitriol and scorn. So being called Nazi-like, bullies, worse, but I admire our legislators, they’re doing a great job and you should admire them too.” 

One notable Republican was missing from the event: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has not yet announced he plans to run for president, but is considered one of the top contenders heading into the 2024 election cycle.

Though DeSantis was not at the event, a PAC advocating for DeSantis to run, “Never Back Down,” stood alongside other Republican candidates and groups like “Moms for Liberty” set up in a room next to the event space. Johnson, a candidate who announced his run in a 2023 Super Bowl advertisement, criticized DeSantis for not attending the event.

“I wanted to say that I think DeSantis is making a huge mistake by not coming here,” Johnson said. “And I just don’t understand, but to each his own.”

Debbie Roney, a Des Moines resident, said she plans to support Trump in the 2024 Iowa caucuses. She said she believed Trump will do well in Iowa, because of his strong record as president on foreign relations and the economy, pointing to the Russia-Ukraine war and inflation under Biden.

But she is worried that Trump’s focus on intra-party conflicts – and DeSantis specifically – may turn off some Republicans.

“I think he does need to work on not dissing other people in the party,” Roney said. “And he needs to focus on issues and things that he can do well, that will draw the party in.”

Here’s what the Republicans told Iowans at the Faith & Freedom Coalition dinner:

Pence blasts ‘radical gender ideology’ in schools

Pence called out the Linn-Mar school district as an example of “gender ideology” entering public schools. One of Pence’s political action committees, Advancing American Freedom, has been involved in pressuring the district to support conservative education policies.

“You put your finger on it, whether it be this radical gender ideology that has even taken hold in schools here in Iowa, the Linn-Mar community schools, our foundation got involved with that fight,” Pence said.

In his speech, he focused on the judicial achievements of the Trump administration that culminated last year in the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the landmark 1972 Roe v. Wade decision.

“I’m pro-life and I don’t apologize for it. I think a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable,” Pence said afterward to reporters. “I’ve been a champion of the right to life throughout my public career and I will continue to be, but I recognize not every American shares that view at this time.” 

Trump highlights administration’s victories

Former President Donald Trump was not able to attend but addressed the crowd in a recorded video as the event’s final speaker.

Trump did not focus on his March indictment, but shared his faith-related accomplishments as president, including the U.S. Supreme Court appointments that he said led to the fall of Roe v. Wade in 2022, saying was the “most pro-life president” in American history.

“Those justices delivered a landmark victory for protecting innocent life,” Trump said. “Nobody thought it was going to happen, they thought it was going to be another 50 years because Republicans had been trying to do it for exactly, at that period of time, 50 years.”

Trump also said he would fight in the “battle to retake our schools” and stop funding schools that promote critical race theory and “transgender ideology.” He said he would ask Congress to send him a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors and “cease the promotion” of gender transitioning for people of all ages, and would ban transgender women from competing in women’s sports.

“The left-wing gender lunacy being pushed on our children is an act of child abuse,” Trump said.

He also emphasized his support of Iowans and of the first-in-the-nation caucuses.

“In everything I did, I faithfully kept my word to the great people of Iowa, especially our farmers,” Trump said.

Hutchinson says he would reverse Biden executive orders

Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 Iowans at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition event in Clive Saturday, April 22. (Photo by Robin Opsahl/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Hutchinson said that he would “reverse and revoke all of Biden’s executive orders” within the first 100 days if elected president.

Regarding foreign policy, he said America needs to pressure Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador into solving the fentanyl crisis and cut off China technologically, saying “they are our competitor.”

He outlined his record opposing gender-neutral bathrooms in public schools by describing his fight with then-President Obama’s Department of Education and its Civil Rights Division.

“The Department of Education sent out notice, not to the governors but to the school superintendents directly, saying you had to open up transgender bathrooms or make them open to both genders,” Hutchinson said. “Well, I immediately sent out word to all of our schools saying please ignore the president of the United States. Please ignore the Department of Education. They had no authority to do that and we pushed back on it. We were successful.”

Johnson disagrees with Pence on Ukraine aid

Johnson, a Michigan businessman, had the most aggressive pitch of the evening, saying he would nationally ban gender-affirming care for minors, get rid of the Department of Education and greatly reduce aid to Ukraine. All of those proposals received above-average applause from attendees.

“When I’m elected president, there are three things that I’d like to do immediately. Number one, I want to start a program where we balance the budget to stop inflation. Number two, never again will we allow transition therapy for minors. It is child abuse,” Johnson said. “Number three, you may not like this, but I’m getting rid of the Department of Education. And I know you guys are gonna throw stones at me, but I disagree with our Vice President about Ukraine. I think it’s ridiculous to send $100 million to the Ukraine.”

Ramaswamy speaks on being a millennial Republican

Ramaswamy, an Ohio businessman, emphasized his youth and the need to change the culture of today’s young people, touting his achievement as the first millennial Republican presidential candidate. He also said he would end affirmative action and get rid of the Department of Education.

“I think young people in this country can learn that hardship is part of what helps us discover who we really are,” Ramaswamy said. “I think once young people see the power to say that, yes, this country is worth standing up, that thought gets me out of bed every day. That’s what this campaign is all about as a cultural campaign for that next generation.”   

Scott calls for canceling Biden WOTUS definition

Scott said he supports reversing the Biden administration’s recent definition of the Waters of the United States.

Bird praised Scott for going on a farm tour in Iowa earlier in April, and asked Scott what he would do to help the “farmers having to hire lawyers” because of the Biden administration. The South Carolina senator said America should “cancel the concept” of WOTUS, as Biden and former President Barack Obama defined it, to restore common sense.

“What they’ve done, basically, is they said, ‘Any navigable water, which is, for their definition, is a pond or a bathtub, they should have the ability to control it,’” Scott said. “We know that that is as far away from common sense as you can be. The easiest way to do it is to reverse the Waters of the U.S. and allow farmers and private landowners to determine their future via their productivity.”

Scott is not officially running for president, but announced his exploratory committee in Iowa earlier in April.  He focused on changing what is taught in American schools.

“Show me if you believe what I do: That America should celebrate our founding fathers and not cancel them … if you believe we should educate our children and not indoctrinate our kids … if you believe we need a little more ‘ABC’s and a little less ‘CRT’s.”

Elder calls for fatherhood support, mentorship programs

Larry Elder said the way to address many social problems in America is to fix the “fatherless epidemic” in many American families.

The religious talk show host and former California gubernatorial candidate said as president, he would try to advocate for supporting mentorship initiatives to help youth growing up without fathers in their life.

“What we’ve done since the mid-60s is we’ve incentivized women to marry the government,” Elder said. “We’ve incentivized men to abandon their financial and moral responsibility.”

Dads need to do more to stay involved in their children’s lives, he said, but everyone needs to support the children growing up now without father figures in their lives. He told the audience to join mentorship programs to help people without strong parental figures in their lives.

He also said the best way to bring back religious freedoms in America is for the president to advocate for Christian values.

“The biggest power that the president has is a bully pulpit,” Elder said. “And we need to bring religion, God back to our country. And the way we do that is we talk about our faith.”

Gabbard said she left Democratic Party over transgender issues

In addition to the slate of Republican speakers, former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also returned to Iowa for the event. Gabbard visited Iowa often during the 2020 Democratic presidential nominating cycle, but left the Democratic Party in 2022. She told Fox News one of her main reasons for leaving was the party’s acceptance of transgender people, saying transgender women are trying to “erase” the existence of cisgender women.

Kaufmann congratulated Gabbard for her “act of courage” in leaving the Democratic Party. Gabbard told the crowd that Democrats are trying to “erase God from every facet of our public life,” and that Democrats are trying to force Americans to support of transgender people.

“They tried to undermine our faith in a God so that we become a people more easily controlled,” Gabbard said. “And there are so many too many examples of this society, but one that we’re seeing play out as we speak is how, in carrying this out, they deny the existence of objective truth. That truth becomes whatever anyone says that it is, that anybody can become a woman if you believe you’re a woman, that I could have my truth and you can have your truth and – even more dangerously – that the truth becomes whatever those in power say that it is at any given time.”

Gabbard, a National Guard member, said these issues are also impacting the military’s ability to recruit. She criticized the Department of Defense and military for focusing on “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion” efforts and gender-affirming medical care instead of creating strong leaders.

“These are the things that are being focused on in our military, again, rather than focusing on what it means to stand up and give your life for this country,” Gabbard said. “… We need strong leadership that can lead this country, again, that can inspire people of all ages to come and want to serve and to protect and defend this nation.”

Will Hurd: GOP can keep America the global leader

Former U.S. Rep. Will Hurd said Republicans need to focus on winning national elections to advocate for religious freedoms and school choices at a federal level. 

The former Texas representative shared his experience growing up with interracial parents in San Antonio, and how he was able to win as a Black Republican in a 72% Latino district. He said Republicans need to focus on bringing people who are not traditional Republican voters into the fold.

“Whether you’re in a ruby red town, or deep blue city, people care about the same issues,” Hurd said. “They want to put food on their table, a roof over their head, and make sure the people they love are healthy, happy and safe. And they want common sense leadership on these issues.”

He also said religious institutions should be brought up as a solution for some problems that people on all political parties agree are hurting the country, like homelessness.

“The churches are better set to not just give somebody a fish, but to teach them how to fish, how to address kids in schools that don’t have access to meals, right,” Hurd said. “… These are the realities, and why we should have a partnership.”

Hurd said he wanted to make sure America remains a global leader in future generations, and that it’s contingent on Republicans taking back the U.S. Congress and the presidency.

“I want to make sure the rest of this century remains the American century,” he said.

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Robin Opsahl
Robin Opsahl

Robin Opsahl is an Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter covering the state Legislature and politics. They have experience covering government, elections and more at media organizations including Roll Call, the Sacramento Bee and the Wausau Daily Herald.

Luke Clausen
Luke Clausen

Luke Clausen was a reporting intern with Iowa Capital Dispatch. He is a student at Drake University studying Multimedia Journalism, Magazine and Brand Media, and International Relations. Additionally, he helps to manage the Ambassador-in-Residence initiative at Drake with Ambassador Terry Branstad and Drake's Global Engagement team.