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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Heroes of Religious Liberty

Heroes of Religious Liberty

          The following are quotes from important American leaders and Saints about religious liberty, put out this fall as part of the informational campaign the Catholic bishops launched against the HHS mandate.  The full text of this statement can be found at the USCCB Web site.  Click here to be linked to it.

What did our early American leaders say about religious freedom?

George Washington: "If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution." (Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, 1789.)

George Washington: “[T]he conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them…” (Letter to the Annual Meeting of Quakers, 1789.)

Thomas Jefferson: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.” (Letter to New London Methodist, 1809.)

James Madison: “[T]he equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the Declaration of Rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of Government, it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.” (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment, 1785.) (Internal quotation marks omitted.)

James Madison: “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” (Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessment, 1785.) (Internal citation and quotations omitted.)

Who have been heroes of religious liberty in the church?

Saint Thomas More: Thomas More was an English Catholic lawyer who served as Lord Chancellor and a close advisor to King Henry VIII. More opposed the king’s separation from the Catholic Church and his naming himself as Supreme Head of the Church of England. More was imprisoned for his refusal to take the oath required by a law that disparaged papal power and required acknowledging the children of Henry and Anne Boleyn (the king’s second wife after his divorce from Catherine of Aragon) as legitimate heirs to the throne. In 1535, More was tried for treason, convicted on perjured testimony, and beheaded. He is the patron saint of religious freedom.

Saint John Fisher: John Fisher was an English Catholic cardinal, academic, and martyr. Fisher was executed by order of King Henry VIII during the English Reformation for refusing to accept the king as Supreme Head of the Church of England and for upholding the Catholic Church’s doctrine of papal primacy.

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton: Elizabeth Ann Seton was the first native‐born U.S. citizen to be canonized by the Catholic Church. In 1809, Seton founded the first American congregation of Religious Sisters, the Sisters of Charity. She also established the first parochial school for girls in the U.S. in Emmitsburg, Maryland in 1810. Seton’s efforts initiated the parochial school system in America and opened the first free Catholic schools for the poor.

Saint Katharine Drexel: Katharine Drexel was a religious sister, heiress, philanthropist, and educator. She dedicated herself and her inheritance to the needs of oppressed Native Americans and African‐Americans in the western and southwestern United States. She was a vocal advocate of racial tolerance and established a religious congregation, the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament, whose mission was to teach African‐Americans and later American Indians. She also financed more than sixty missions and schools around the United States, in addition to founding Xavier University of Louisiana—the only historically African‐American Catholic university in the United States to date.

John Courtney Murray, SJ: Father Murray was an American Jesuit priest and theologian, who was known for his efforts to reconcile Catholicism and religious pluralism, particularly focusing on the relationship between religious freedom and the institutions of a democratically structured modern state. During the Second Vatican Council, he played a key role in the Council’s ground‐breaking Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis Humanae.