Thomas Jefferson wanted what he considered to be his three greatest achievements to be listed on his tombstone. The inscription, as he stipulated, reads “Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia.”
Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” One way to honor the day is to reflect on these ten quotes about religious liberty that were expressed by some of our country’s greatest leaders:
Over two decades ago, Congress declared January 16 as Religious Freedom Day, a day for honoring America’s first freedom. This Saturday, The Becket Fund launches RFRA Central to celebrate the 230th anniversary of the “Virginia Statute Establishing Religious Freedom” – the forerunner of the Constitution’s First Amendment Religion Clauses.
Despite the president’s claim that more than 18 million Americans now have health insurance—credited to Obamacare’s implementation—the majority of those who gained coverage qualified for Medicaid because of loosened eligibility.
These are the people Osmond pinpointed when he obtained a database from the Connecticut Lottery containing 21 years’ worth of winners. What did he find? They are largely poor, largely minorities, and often addicts. The lottery preys on these people.
How did religious freedom develop in America? It didn’t happen the way most of us were taught in school—whether in elementary school or law school. In fact, notes legal scholar Richard Garnett, the “standard story” about religious freedom in Early America is profoundly misleading:
In my experience, this “standard story” is familiar to most Americans, whether or not they are historians or constitutional lawyers, though lawyers have probably been more exposed to and influenced by it than most. In this account, our sophisticated and “enlightened” Founding Fathers—with far-seeing Virginians like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the lead—took special care to write and design a “godless” constitution so as to spare our new political community and experiment from the superstition and strife that, they knew all too well, had ravaged and torn Europe in the preceding centuries. In this story, the First Amendment was crafted and constitutionalized so as to entrench a principle—a “wall”—of church-state separation and ensure a secular “public” sphere, with religion protected, but confined within, the “private” realm.
This story is not true. In fact, America’s revolution and constitution were shaped not only by the Enlightenment but also by the Great Awakening, by preachers as well as pamphleteers. And, as John Witte describes in Religion and the American Constitutional Experiment, the Founding-era arguments about religious freedom under law included not just “Enlightenment thinkers” but also “congregational Puritans,” “Free Church Evangelicals,” and “Civic Republicans.” It would not have been difficult to identify a consensus in favor of the liberty of religious conscience and a distinction between religious and political authority and office, but this consensus obtained at a high level of generality and allowed for variation and disagreement with respect to many—indeed most—questions and applications. And, it seems very unlikely that the First Amendment was widely seen as embodying, let alone entrenching, much beyond an aversion to a nationally established church, backed and propped up by legal coercion, of the kind they knew existed elsewhere. Hardly anyone, if anyone, thought that the ratification of the First Amendment meant that something called “religion” was now legally barred from the “public” or that, as a result of that provision, the constitutional validity of laws and policies was contingent on a judicial determination that they did not rest on “religious” beliefs or motives.
Fifty years ago today, on December 7, 1965, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Declaration on Religious Freedom (Dignitatis humanae). This document produced by the Second Vatican Council clarified the Catholic Church’s views on religious liberty, changed the way the Church interacted with states, and helped foster ecumenical relations with other faith traditions.
Since the release of Dignitatis humanae, the importance of defending religious freedom has become even more necessary. As Archbiship Charles J. Chaput has said, “In some ways, the [Declaration on Religious Freedom] is the Vatican II document that speaks most urgently to our own time. The reason is obvious. We see it right now in the suffering of Christians and other religious believers in many places around the world.”
Here are six key quotes from the document: (more…)
On November 19, the Acton Institute was pleased to welcome Marina Nemat to the Mark Murray Auditorium as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series. Marina was born in 1965 in Tehran, Iran, in what was at the time a relatively secular and free nation. (Granted, she lived under the dictatorship of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi – the Shah of Iran – but as we were reminded a couple of weeks ago by Jay Nordlinger, when it comes to dictators you have to grade on a curve.) After the Islamic Revolution of 1979, she was arrested at the age of sixteen and spent more than two years in Evin, a political prison in Tehran, where she was tortured and came very close to execution.
Since 1991, Marina has lived in Canada. Her memoir of her life in Iran, Prisoner of Tehran, has been published in nearly 30 countries, and has been an international bestseller. In 2007, Marina received the inaugural Human Dignity Award from the European Parliament, and in 2008, she received the prestigious Grinzane Prize in Italy. In 2008/2009, she was an Aurea Fellow at University of Toronto’s Massey College, where she wrote her second book, After Tehran: A Life Reclaimed. Marina regularly speaks at high schools, universities, and conferences around the world and sits on the Board of Directors at CCVT (Canadian Centre for Victims of Torture) and on advisory boards at ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture) and PEN Canada. She also teaches memoir writing, in Farsi and in English, at the School of Continuing Studies at University of Toronto and writes book reviews for The Globe and Mail.
On October 21st, the Acton Institute celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a dinner at DeVos Place Convention Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The keynote address for the evening was delivered by Acton President and Co-Founder Rev. Robert A. Sirico, who reflected on how the world has changed in the quarter century since he and Kris Mauren founded the Institute, and on what challenges those of us committed to a free and virtuous society face as Acton embarks upon its next twenty-five years. We’re pleased to present the video of Rev. Sirico’s address below.
Allow me to make a very direct statement. I believe it is time for the Church in this country to stand up for religious freedom.
Especially over the course of the last few years, we have seen repeated efforts — in the courts, in state legislatures, in Congress and on Pennsylvania Avenue — to erode what has been called the first freedom: religious liberty. (more…)