As thousands of Republicans, journalists and activists convene in Tampa, Florida when the Republican National Convention kicks off Tuesday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, religious voices will take center stage.
The convention will open Tuesday with a color guard from the Catholic Knights of Columbus and close Thursday with a benediction from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and President of the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops. Between, Republican delegates will hear prayers from Mormon, Sikh, evangelical and Greek Orthodox religious figures, while popular politicians who have made religion central to their service, from former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee to Sen. Rick Santorum, will also speak on behalf of the party.
In addition, voices of faith that are not participating in the formal convention have gathered in local churches, in public parks and during political panels to discuss the role faith should play in public life. That includes controversies over legalizing same-sex marriage, abortion rights and the highly contested mandate in President Barack Obama's healthcare overhaul that requires faith-based employers that are not houses of worship to provide free contraception to their employees as part of insurance plans.
Below -- in no particular order -- are some of the top religious voices to watch for in Tampa.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Archbishop of New York and the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will offer the benediction before the convention closes. Joseph Zwilling, the cardinal's spokesman, said in an interview that the Republican National Committee invited Dolan to speak and that "he is going solely to pray" and "not for a partisan appearance." Dolan will not be giving a speech, Zwilling said. The archdiocese announced Tuesday that Dolan will also offer prayers at the Democratic National Convention. The Archdiocese of New York is one of dozens of Catholic organizations suing President Barack Obama because of a portion of his health care overhaul that requires employers, including Catholic schools and hospitals but not houses of worship, to provide free contraception as part of employee health plans. Mitt Romney recently released an ad that says Obama "used his health care plan to declare war on religion," and said in a recent interview with a Catholic TV show that he understands any law he may propose will be scrutinized based on "its impact on religious freedom."
Tony Perkins (Family Research Council)
On Tuesday, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative evangelical Christian, will co-host a "Treasure Life" event with the Republican National Coalition for Life to honor pro-life politicians. Family Research Council Action, the legislative arm of the Perkins' organization, will honor Sen. Rick Santorum, Rep. Michele Bachmann and Gov. Rick Perry's "advocacy for every stage of life, from conception to natural death." Each lawmaker ran against Mitt Romney in the Republican primary and spoke of their Christian beliefs as what informed their positions against abortion. Perkins, a former Republican member of the Louisiana state legislature, made headlines recently when he accused the Southern Poverty Law Center of having responsibility in an August 15 shooting of a security guard at the FRC's Washington, D.C. office. The SPLC has included the FRC its list of "hate groups" and called it a "a fount of anti-gay propaganda." After the shooting, which left the security guard with a non-life threatening injury, Perkins said the SPLC "is responsible for creating the environment that led to this. ... that gives license to lunatics like this to come in with a gun and shoot innocent people."
Former Arkansas govenor and conservative talk show host Mike Huckabee will not only be one of the convention's headliners, but will be a key Republican party surrogate throughout events during the week. The former Southern Baptist pastor has significant influence among evangelicals. He recently called for the popular "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day" in early August to support the fast-food chain whose president was protested for publicly affirming his belief in the "biblical definition of the family unit." After Republican senatorial candidate Todd Akin controversially said last week that victims of "legitimate rape" can't get pregnant, Huckabee was part of a conference call with hundreds of Missouri Baptist pastors to convince them to support Akin. Pictured, Huckabee checks out the stage during preparations for the Tampa convention.
Rabbi Meir Soloveichik
A descendant of the Lithuanian Jewish Soloveichik rabbinic dynasty, Orthodox Rabbi Meir Soloveichik is an Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York. He is also the director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University. Soloveichik will give the invocation to open the convention on Tuesday, August 28. "It is extraordinary privilege to deliver an invocation at a cherished ritual of American democracy," he said in a statement "The fact that I have been teaching courses about the connection between Jewish ideas and American democracy makes this moment all the more meaningful for me." Pictured, Soloveichik testifies on Feb. 16 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., before the House Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion & Freedom of Conscience?"
Ishwar Singh (Sikh Society of Central Florida)
In a move that likely will be viewed as a gesture recognizing the devastating August 5 attack on an Oak Creek, Wisc. Sikh temple that killed six and injured four, the Republican National Committee has invited a Sikh to open the second day of the convention with an invocation. Ishwar Singh is the President of the Sikh Society of Central Florida, which has operated a Gurdwara, or Sikh temple, for 25 years in Oviedo, a suburb northeast of Orlando. The invocation will occur shortly after the convention opens Wednesday at 7 p.m. The attack was mourned by Sikhs across the world, including the Sikh Society of Northeast Florida, which organized a candlight vigil in Jacksonville, Fla. in the photo that is displayed.
Archbishop Demetrios of America (Greek Orthodox)
The second night of the Republican National Convention will close with a benediction from Archbishop Demetrios of America, the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. The archdiocese, which is headquartered in New York, oversees 800 priests in 500 parishes throughout the U.S. and about 440,000 members. The benediction will happen around 10 p.m. The archbishop is no stranger to political conventions. Pictured here, he spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Col.
Rev. Sammy Rodriguez
President of National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference and a prominent evangelical pastor of New Season Christian Church Sacramento, Calif., the Rev. Sammy Rodriguez represents two key voting groups Republicans hope to capture in upcoming elections: evangelicals and Hispanics. Rodriguez's wife, Eva, is also a pastor of Cantico Nuevo Centro Cristiano de Adoracion, an Hispanic congregation in Sacramento, and on the board of the NHCLC. Rodriguez will close the first day of the convention with a benediction at 10 p.m on Tuesday. Pictured, National Council of La Raza President and CEO Janet Murguia joins Rodriguez (second from left) in an immigration reform rally and press conference on Capitol Hill on June 27, 2006.
Mitt and Ann Romney won't be the only Mormons to speak at the RNC. Mia Love, a black Mormon woman who is a Republican congressional nominee in Utah, will speak on Tuesday, while Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, also a Mormon, will speak at the convention. Yet, the biggest Mormon presence besides the Romneys will be Kenneth Hutchins, a retired Massachusetts police officer and former stake president in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Hutchins will offer the invocation before Romney speaks Thursday evening to accept the presidential nomination. He will be joined by his wife, Priscilla Hutchins. The invocation will begin around 7 p.m. Raised in Walpole, Mass., Hutchins became president of the Boston church stake after Romney left his position in 1994 to run for the U.S. Senate. He was in the position through 2003, then became mission president for the church in Tampa, Fla., overseeing missionaries from around the world who came to proselytize in the Tampa area. When Hutchins left Massachusetts, he also left his career as chief of Northborough Police Department, a job he held since 1980. In interview the <em>Deseret News</em>, an LDS-owned newspaper, Hutchins called the chance to offer the invocation at the convention an "honor." Currently battling cancer, he said the opportunity lifted his spirits.
Ralph Reed (Faith and Freedom Coalition)
The Faith and Freedom Coalition, the brainchild of political strategist Ralph Reed -- leader of the influential Christian Coalition in the 1990s -- has hosted dozens of local and national events catering to both evangelicals and Tea Party-affiliated conservatives during this election season. Since last summer, its events have drawn nearly every major contender in the Republican primary, including Mitt Romney. On Sunday, hundreds attended a rally it hosted in downtown Tampa, where former Arkansas Gov. Mick Huckabee, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Reed were in attendance.
Catholics for Choice & Republicans For Choice
A coalition of religious and Republican voices including Catholics for Choice, Log Cabin Republicans, Republicans for Choice and the National Council of Jewish Women have been in Tampa since last week trying to draw attention to what they see as a GOP assault on gay and women's rights. "Too many in the current leadership have been convinced by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that recent advances in the provision of family planning are an attack on religious freedom. This is completely bogus. In bending the knee to the Catholic hierarchy, these leaders have taken on values that are held by a tiny minority of Catholics and are anathema to the Republican ideals of freedom and fairness," Jon O'Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, said at an event last week in Tampa. "Log Cabin Republicans fight for a stronger, more inclusive GOP by standing for the principle that freedom means freedom for everyone," said Casey Pick, the program director of Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republicans organization. Pictured, signs are held up during a rally for religious freedom and by the counter-protesters organized in Philadelphia on March 23, 2012.