WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman John Podesta went on the offensive on Friday against Republicans who have seized on a remark Clinton made in April about the need for some religious beliefs to change in the context of women's rights.
"Hillary Clinton has spoken out for decades against extremists who pervert the world’s great religions to justify brutality against women and girls. That is what Republicans are attacking her for," Podesta said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
"ISIS claims their religious faith justifies forcing Yazidi women in Iraq into sexual slavery. Does Gov. Bush think we should respect that practice?" Podesta said. "The Taliban torture women in Afghanistan in the name of their twisted version of Islam. Does Gov. Jindal think that is acceptable? What about forced marriages or throwing acid in women’s faces?"
"If Republicans think standing up to these atrocities is part of Hillary Clinton’s progressive agenda, we are proud to agree," Podesta said. "As a woman of faith herself, she won’t hesitate to condemn those who distort religious beliefs to justify barbaric actions. Such distortions are a grave affront to both the girls and women who are being persecuted, as well as the religions these barbarians attempt to use as cover for these heinous acts."
Spokespeople for Bush and Jindal responded on Friday.
"What's insulting is that Sec. Clinton's campaign chairman would compare Christians acting on their conscience to barbaric Islamic extremists," Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's communications director said in response to Podesta.
"Secretary Clinton said verbatim 'Far too many women are still denied critical access to reproductive health care and safe childbirth...and deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed… and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States,'" said Jindal spokesman Kyle Plotkin. "Those are her words, not Governor Jindal’s. If she wasn’t talking about pro-life Christians in the United States, then whom was she talking about? Secretary Clinton can recant her remarks, but she won’t. The Clintons are famous for sicking their attack dogs on anyone who catches them in the act. That's what she is doing to Governor Jindal now, but he won’t be bullied by the Clintons."
During a speech in April at the Women in the World conference, Clinton said during a section on women's rights and access to health care and education that "all the laws we’ve passed don’t count for much if they’re not enforced. Rights have to exist in practice, not just on paper. Laws have to be backed up with resources and political will. And deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed. As I have said and as I believe, the advancement of the full participation of women and girls at every aspect of their societies is the great unfinished business of the 21st century, and not just for women but for everyone — and not just in far away countries but right here in the United States."
The comment — which at the time some interpreted to include abortion — has become fodder for Republicans for whom religious freedom is a central talking point. Bush referenced the remark in his announcement speech in Miami this week and at the Faith and Freedom Coalition gathering in Washington on Friday. "Secretary Clinton insists that when the progressive agenda encounters religious beliefs to the contrary, those beliefs ‘have to be changed.’ That is what she said," he said in Miami on Monday.
"There seems to be attitude when the prevailing government policy runs headlong into the views of the faithful, the faithful must yield," Bush said on Friday. "I'm reminded what Secretary, Sen. Clinton said, that when people that have religious beliefs, they run into conflict with a woman's right to choose for example, that the people that have religious conscience have to get over it, have to take a step back. Well, in a big diverse country we need to make sure that we protect the right not just of having religious views but the right of acting on those views."
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is expected to announce his presidential campaign next week, also referenced her remark on Friday.
"The fourth example, you may have seen several weeks ago Hillary Clinton said, 'those of us who are pro life need to have our religious beliefs changed.' I don't know about you but my religious beliefs are not between me and Hillary Clinton," he said. "My religious beliefs are between me and God Almighty. I'm not changing my beliefs simply because they make her unhappy or unpopular with the left. You know, when you hear Hillary Clinton or President Obama say we've got freedom of religious expression, all they mean is you can say what you want in church. That's not religious liberty. Religious liberty is the ability to live our lives, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, according to our religious beliefs. And, unlike Hillary Clinton and President Obama, my views on marriage are not evolving with the polls. I believe in traditional marriage between a man and woman."