June 8, 2012 in San Francisco, California
PROCLAIM LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND UNTO ALL THE INHABITANTS THEREOF LEV. XXV. V X.
This quote from Leviticus describes the Biblical Jubilee Year. Every 49 years, God commanded that all slaves be freed, and all debts be canceled. By doing so, the people acknowledged God alone as the true master of all men and owner of all property. Before God, “all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.”
The message on the Liberty Bell is clear enough: God, not man, is the foundation of human liberty. If we attempt to build a social order apart from God’s law, we lose our freedom. The liberty bell first rang 260 years in the only place in the British Empire to permit religious freedom, in Philadelphia, the capital city of America at the time. America pioneered religious liberty. Our founders made the statement to the world that religious freedom is good for society. 260 years later, will America relinquish that freedom without a struggle? I want to invoke God’s blessing upon all of you who have come to this fair city of San Francisco to stand up for religious liberty. I want to beg God’s mercy upon all of us who have come to engage the battle for American freedom inscribed not only on our Liberty Bell, but on every piece of American currency: in God we trust. Not in men, but in God.
As a boy, I read a book by Fr. Walter Czisek, With God in Russia. Fr. Czisek spent 15 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps for practicing his faith. The book greatly inspired me, but I wondered if anything like that could ever happen in America. My parish in Modesto supports a parish in Vladivostok, Russia. Shortly after the Soviet government dynamited the Orthodox Cathedral in Vladivostok (on Easter Sunday 1922), the Catholic Cathedral was confiscated and turned into a state archive. Since 1991, two American priests have painstakingly restored that building. But religious practice in Russia, and the social goods that depend on religion, has not so quickly recovered. Religious liberty, once lost, takes a long time to recover.
Thomas Aquinas College in Southern California recently published an Open letter to President Obama. “It is manifestly an affront to the American conception of religious liberty and to the first amendment of the US constitution to demand that citizens ‘adapt’ to a violation of conscience.” This is our core principle in the current battle: we can never adapt to a violation of our foundational right. It would violate not only common good but also our identity as free men and women. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York declared in a Face the Nation interview in April, “We didn’t ask for this fight, but we won’t back away from it.”