I would like to thank all the organizers of this rally for inviting me to speak.
I also want to thank all of you here today in support of this important cause.
We are here today to answer some of the most fundamental questions pertaining to religious freedom: Why is it important? Why is it necessary to have it? Why would people go so far as to fight or even die for it?
We are all familiar with the words from the Declaration of Independence: “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” and also with the Bill of Rights that guarantee these liberties, including the freedom of religion.
What is important to understand is that these documents do not give us liberty, but acknowledges the self-evident truth that liberty comes from a much higher authority beyond the power of any earthly government. Human freedom derives from human nature that ultimately originates with God, the Creator. Enlightened political thinkers such as John Locke, Cicero, Martin Luther King Jr., and even Pope John Paul II all have espoused that all liberty is inseparable from the human condition. In other words, whether they are written down on paper or not, our natural rights are inherent in our humanity including the freedom to worship and to act in accordance with our beliefs. For the government to deny this truth, would be to deny our humanity.
Unfortunately, throughout our history, governments have committed acts of religious persecution against its own citizens. The pilgrims, who first settled in what would later be the United States, fled England to avoid religious persecution by the King and Parliament’s 1559 Act of Uniformity that would fine those not attending services on Sundays and Holy Days for the Church of England (approximately $25 per day in today’s standards) and would severely punish and imprison those who went and held other services. To preserve their way of life, they had traveled across the sea to the Americas, learned to be self-sufficient; all to freely worship the way they wanted.
The recently released movie called For Greater Glory depicts the Cristero War during the late 1920’s in which the Mexican government persecuted Catholics and banned all public religious practices. Under Mexican President Plutarco Elias Calles, anti-clerical laws were taken to horrific heights as priests were killed and tortured in public. His sentiments were revealed in a private telegram to the Mexican Ambassador to France as he wrote that the“Catholic Church in Mexico is a political movement, and must be eliminated in order to proceed with a Socialist government free of religious hypnotism which fools the people…within one year without the sacraments, the people will forget the faith.” In the end, the freedom-loving people of Mexico, the Cristeros, took up armed resistance against the government’s federal army. Casualties exceeded 90,000 overall. Ultimately, it took the diplomacy of the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and the subsequent change of Presidents to restore the freedom to worship.
Today, governments are even more subtle in their encroachment on religious liberty. In the United States, the Health and Human Services agency has mandated that all religious organizations, namely Catholic hospitals and schools, to buy insurance for their employees to cover contraception, including abortive-inducing measures. Detractors would have you believe that this is a moral debate about the use of contraception, however, the real issue is whether or not the government can force a religious group to perform an action in violation of their own beliefs. And the question that we have to ask ourselves is how far can they intrude in our personal religious choices. Do we allow this to happen and trust that the government will leave us alone? Or do we draw the line in the sand and make a firm stand? We must keep in mind Thomas Jefferson’s warning that “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”
Even though we are different in terms of creed and fundamental beliefs, today we stand united in fighting for our religious freedom. If the government does not protect this liberty for people of every faith, then the freedom of religion would be an illusion. An attack on one is an attack on all. So let us continue to be thankful in what we have and to fight for that which is rightfully ours. Thank you.