Long after Pope Francis has left America, long after indeed he has left this life for the next (may it be many years away), American courts at least and the courts of other nations that value freedom will be quoting the pontiff’s words in opinions dealing with the the “first freedom,” the freedom of religion.
The Pope delivered the most important address of his trip from a lectern used by Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Gettysburg Address, on the steps of Independence Hall wherein were birthed modernity’s most perfect statement of natural rights in the Declaration of Independence and modernity’s most perfect Constitution.
The heart of his remarks, delivered from a place of unparalleled significance for the reconciliation of faith and freedom, deserve a close rereading:
“In this place which is symbolic of the American way, I would like to reflect with you on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own.
“Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. …
“In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others. …
“Never forget what happened here two centuries ago. Don’t lose the memory of that Declaration, which declared all men and women are created equal, endowed by their creator with rights which governments exist to protect and to defend.”
“Let us preserve liberty, let us take care of it: freedom of conscience, religious freedom, the freedom of every person, family, and nation, which causes other rights.”
The Pope was preceded at the podium by his host, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, one of American Catholicism’s most respected and beloved leaders, a leader who has been tasked by three popes with difficult tasks and delivered on all of them.
Archbishop Chaput invoked one of the country’s most important Framers, Alexander Hamilton, a penniless immigrant to the land who became George Washington’s right arm in war, one of the architects of the Constitution and with James Madison a key proponent of its ratification, and a brilliant Treasury secretary when the young country was facing financial ruin.
Hamilton “reminds us that immigrants from around the world renew this country in every generation.” The Archbishop could not have picked a better example of the strength that immigration brings the country.
Archbishop Chaput also used the occasion to remind the secular media eager to turn the Pope into a poster child for this or that cause, that Francis leads a church with decided opinions on morality.
“When the church defends marriage and the family, the unborn child and the purpose of human sexuality, she’s attacked as too harsh,” Chaput argued. “When she defends immigrant workers and families that are broken up by deportation, she’s attacked as too soft.”
A perfect introduction from a wonderful bishop, followed by a perfect speech by a wonderful pope. Philadelphia, which has been home to many important days in history, added another Saturday.
This column was originally posted on WashingtonExaminer.com.