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Pastor Rick Warren preaches at his Saddleback Church.

Saddleback Church founder and senior pastor Rick Warren said in an interview earlier this week that he believes “religious liberty is going to be the civil rights issue of the next decade.”

Warren, who made the comments during a sit-down with Fox News commentator Sean Hannity on Nov. 28, is regarded as one of the most influential evangelical pastors in America. He gave the invocation at President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration and his book, “The Purpose Driven Life,” has sold more than 30 million copies in the 10 years since its release.

“America was founded on religious liberty, freedom of conscience,” Warren said, “and we’re seeing this being caved in in government, in academics and a lot of different areas.”

Warren says he’ll host a “national congress on religious liberty” in June for political and religious leaders to discuss “the first freedom.”

He cited the Health and Human Services (HHS) January 2012 mandate requiring contraceptives to be a part of health care plans as reason to believe that religious liberty is in jeopardy.

“That’s like going to every deli in New York City that’s Jewish (and saying they now have) to sell pork. That’s nonsense. You can get pork anywhere. It’s not illegal to get pork. It’s free. Why would you force people who have a conviction against it to be forced to sell pork? To say to Catholics, ‘You have to sell something that’s against your conviction, these are all creeping liberty destroyers.”

Warren’s comments come on the heels of an initiative launched in early November by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called First American Freedom. The initiative’s website mentions the HHS mandate and also emphasizes religious liberty as a civil rights issue:

“Religious freedom is our first American freedom. It is a founding principle of our country, protected by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. It’s a fundamental human right, rooted in the dignity of every human person — people of any faith or no faith at all. It’s not a Catholic, Jewish, Orthodox, Mormon or Muslim issue — it’s an American issue, a civil rights issue.

“Across the country and around the world, people of all faiths are standing up for their religious freedom — and we stand with them. Through prayer, education, and public action, we are activating Americans from all faiths and walks of life to turn back these threats.”

These statements echo those of Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange who, in July, told students at Samford University that “religious liberty is the civil rights issue of today.

Strange’s statement came at a First Principles of Freedom workshop session attended by 50 students from around the nation and sponsored by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute of Wilmington, Del., and the Alabama Policy Institute. He also referred to the HHS mandate in his comments.

David Ward is a writer living in Salt Lake City. Contact him at [email protected].