When I was a high school junior, I had the opportunity to travel to Philadelphia to attend the Valley Forge Freedoms Foundation Youth Conference. It was a for me in many ways: my first flight, my first time away from home without the parents and my first time in another time zone. I joined about 100 other high school kids from all over the United States to learn about freedom. We toured Independence Hall, saw the Liberty Bell and then went on to Valley Forge.
While it was certainly moving to see these hallowed treasures of our nation's history, the most impacting part of the program involved a presentation from a former Soviet prisoner. His name escapes me, but, his story bears repeating, especially now when our own freedoms are being threatened from within.
The man spent many years in a Soviet prison camp because he spoke out against the repression fostered by that government. He told us that people had to worship in secret and they could not openly express themselves in disagreement with those in authority. This was oppression at its worst. He said that when he arrived in the United States, it was as though he were stepping into a dream land because of the immense freedom we enjoy. The first thing he did was find a church where he could go and thank God. The former prisoner said that only when he stepped into the tiny Catholic church could he fully experience freedom, where he could kneel in the presence of God in humble gratitude and in supplication for his homeland.
I stand some 28 years removed from that conference. Oh how things have changed when that wide-eyed 17-year-old kid was listening to the former dissident, never thinking that the same thing could very well happen here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Sadly, we are seeing a slow erosion of our religious liberties, beginning with the ill-conceived HHS mandate. Our freedom of religious conscience is being ignored and dismissed in the name of the god of political correctness. Those who claim to be Constitutional law scholars engage in activities that violate the very basis of our Bill of Rights. In fact, many of our founding citizens came to this country precisely because they yearned for the freedom of religion. Catholics who were still being treated as second-class citizens by the British empire settled in Maryland (which, if I understand correctly, is named after no less than the Blessed Virgin Mary, herself). Freedom of religion is fundamental. It is not merely restricted to worshipping as our Church dictates; it also means being able to freely express that belief in the public square.
The Founding Fathers probably never envisioned that, some 237 years after Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, the nation would be faced with a growing cancer from within that would chip away at the very freedoms they fought to establish. As Founding Father John Adams once noted, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Despite his flawed theology, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence with the belief that Someone greater than ourselves is the sole guarantor of our liberties:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.Notice that the first right endowed by our Creator is LIFE. Jefferson did not qualify that statement to mean only those who are born or those who are free or those who belong to other categories. Interestingly enough, St. Paul never made any distinctions among those who are called by Christ (there are no Jews, no Greeks, no slave, no freed; we are all one Body). The right to LIFE applies to ALL, the born and the unborn, the very young and the very old. It is the most fundamental right because it is the primal one.
Outside my window, the fireworks are beginning to burst forth into the night sky. Hues of red, white and blue are sailing through the darkness. Americans of all stripes are celebrating the freedom of which Jefferson wrote and for which Washington fought. That battle continues even to this day; however, instead of being waged on the battlefield against an oppressive kingdom, it is now being fought in legislative chambers and in courts of law.
On this July 4th, in the Year of Our Lord, 2013, I leave with one final quote, this time, from the prayer that Archbishop John Carroll penned on November 10, 1791, a prayer which still forms an integral part of the Masses we celebrate both on Independence Day and Thanksgiving:
We pray you, O God of might, wisdom, and justice, through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with your Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to your people, over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of your divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.We recommend likewise, to your unbounded mercy, all our fellow citizens throughout the United States, that we may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of your most holy law; that we may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.
May God bless this union we call the United States of America and may He bless my beloved Texas, whose Legislature is debating the very issue of life. May He touch the hearts of our 181 lawmakers, reminding them that, in the final analysis, it matters not if one stood with their party; rather, that they stood with Christ.