Last week, I joined a group of Christian leaders in Washington to announce the publication of the Manhattan Declaration. This is a landmark document signed by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders who joined together to “reaffirm fundamental truths about justice and the common good, and to call upon our fellow citizens, believers and non-believers alike, to join us in defending them.” These truths are the sanctity of human life, the definition of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife, and the rights of conscience and religious liberty.
The Manhattan Declaration’s statement on religious liberty is, of course, something that fits perfectly with the core principles of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. Here is a key passage:
The struggle for religious liberty across the centuries has been long and arduous, but it is not a novel idea or recent development. The nature of religious liberty is grounded in the character of God Himself, the God who is most fully known in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Determined to follow Jesus faithfully in life and death, the early Christians appealed to the manner in which the Incarnation had taken place: “Did God send Christ, as some suppose, as a tyrant brandishing fear and terror? Not so, but in gentleness and meekness…, for compulsion is no attribute of God” (Epistle to Diognetus 7.3-4). Thus the right to religious freedom has its foundation in the example of Christ Himself and in the very dignity of the human person created in the image of God – a dignity, as our founders proclaimed, inherent in every human, and knowable by all in the exercise of right reason.
Christians confess that God alone is Lord of the conscience. Immunity from religious coercion is the cornerstone of an unconstrained conscience. No one should be compelled to embrace any religion against his will, nor should persons of faith be forbidden to worship God according to the dictates of conscience or to express freely and publicly their deeply held religious convictions. What is true for individuals applies to religious communities as well.
The rationale for this statement is simple and powerful. Though historically many Christians have had differences related to doctrine, we feel we must come together, make common cause, to affirm our right — and more importantly to fulfill our obligation — to defend principles of justice and the common good that are now under assault. As the Manhattan Declaration states: “We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we will under no circumstances render to Caesar what is God’s.”
The drafting committee for this statement included Robert George, Professor, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence, Princeton University; Timothy George, Professor, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University; and Chuck Colson, Founder, The Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview in Lansdowne, Va. Go here to see a list of the initial signers. When I last checked, some 87,000 people had signed since Friday.
Those of us involved in this important project invite other Christians to advocate for these foundational biblical and rational principles and to stand in solidarity with us by signing the Manhattan Declaration at ManhattanDeclaration.org
Again, the full text of the Manhattan Declaration is available for download here.