Houston (CNN)Mike Huckabee rallied a crowd of Hispanic evangelicals on Wednesday night, pushing back in the debate over religious freedom just one day after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments to determine whether states have the right to ban same-sex marriage.
“I respect the courts, but the Supreme Court is only that — the supreme of the courts. It is not the supreme being. It cannot overrule God,” he said. “When it comes to prayer, when it comes to life, and when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, the court cannot change what God has created.”
His well-received speech at the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference came just days before the former Arkansas governor is expected make his 2016 announcement in Hope, Arkansas, on Tuesday followed by a campaign swing through Iowa.
Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses during his 2008 presidential bid with support from Christian conservatives, has never shied away from weighing in on social issues and warned that “our country’s in trouble because we lost our landmarks of faith.”
He doubled down on his argument that Christian business owners are being “criminalized” when they face legal action for not agreeing to participate in same-sex weddings, an issue that has spurred the recent religious liberty debate in Indiana.
“Somebody’s got to be willing to take on the institutions that challenge and threaten our ability to believe as we believe, because when religious liberty is lost, all liberty is lost,” he said.
Huckabee was invited to speak in part because of his history of appealing to minority voters, according to Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the NHCLC. Exit polls indicate Huckabee won 48% of the African-American vote during his first election as governor of Arkansas in 1998.
“He’s not the perceived idea of a Republican political leader,” Rodriguez told reporters.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a potential GOP presidential rival of Huckabee, addressed the conference earlier Wednesday, using his Spanish-language skills and his Hispanic ties to connect with the audience.
Huckabee, a former Baptist pastor, shared his background of growing up in a blue collar house whose father didn’t graduate from high school. His sermon-like speech also touched on an array of religious and social issues.
“I do not come to you tonight with the ability to speak Spanish. But I do speak a common language: I speak Jesus,” he said on stage, drawing laughs.