A stirring American defense of the rights of believers

Multiple-choice pop quiz: Please identify the person who made these public remarks at the end of July: 

“Religious freedom is not just about religion. It’s not just about the right of Roman Catholics to organize a Mass, or Muslims to hold a religious funeral, or Baha’is to meet in each others’ homes for prayer, or Jews to celebrate High Holy Days together — as important as those rituals are. Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship without the state looking over their shoulder.” 

Answer A: Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, head of the U.S. bishops’ committee on religious freedom. 

Answer B: Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. bishops’ conference. 

Answer C: Hillary Clinton, U.S. secretary of state. 

It may surprise you, given the domestic battle over religious freedom and the federal government’s slide toward dogmatic secularism, that the correct answer is C: Clinton. She was speaking at the release in Washington, D.C., of the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report. 

She continued: “That’s why the free exercise of religion is the first freedom enshrined in our First Amendment, along with the freedoms to speak and associate. Because where religious freedom exists, so do the others. It’s also why the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion — all three together — because they all speak to the same capacity within each and every human being to follow our conscience, to make moral choices for ourselves, our families, our communities.” 

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton. CNS photo

Clinton’s job is foreign policy, so naturally her remarks are going to be aimed overseas. She says the Obama administration has “elevated religious freedom as a diplomatic priority.” 

So why not do the same at home, too, which would show other governments we actually practice what we’re preaching to them? 

At the moment, though, any foreign observer of the state of religious freedom in our country would have good grounds for accusing us of hypocrisy. 

The director of media relations for the U.S. bishops, Sister Mary Ann Walsh, recently noted: “The Constitution heralds religious liberty in the First Amendment, yet in recent years religious groups have had to fight for this right. Some opponents dismiss religious freedom as inconsequential. We’ve seen legal efforts to deny the Church the right to participate in government programs unless it cedes its religious principles. We’ve seen government officials dismiss those who defend marriage as between one man and one woman as ‘bigots.’ We’ve seen the state try to define who can be a minister in a church.” 

Clinton gave a stirring defense of the free exercise of religion. Time to see it in practice. 

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