By ALAN SEARS
(Editor’s Note: Alan Sears, president of the Alliance Defending Freedom [www.adfmedia.org], offered the following welcoming remarks to those attending the ADF’s March 24-27 Catholic Media Symposium in Rome. Raymond Cardinal Burke, prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, also spoke at the event.)
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Good evening friends.
It is an honor to be with you all tonight. We are so thankful for His Eminence Cardinal Burke, his fidelity, and his presence with us earlier.
In the United States, President Ronald Reagan, in whose administration I had the honor to serve, speaking to one of our state’s legislatures, noted:
“To those who cite the First Amendment [of the United States Constitution] as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and everyday life, may I just say:
“The First Amendment . . . was not written to protect the people . . . from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.”
The same could be said for those who miss-cite the European Convention of Human Rights. The Convention was adopted by the Council of Europe to protect “Human Rights and fundamental freedoms” — including article 9, which states:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice, and observance.”
This Convention was written to protect the rights and freedom of citizens from governments and states; not to protect states from the conscience and religion of their citizens.
And the same can be said of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — article 16 (3) of which declares: “The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”
And, article 26 (3), which states, “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
All of these most basic of human rights are under attack in the legal systems on this Continent and throughout the West.
At every level there are direct efforts to stifle and limit human dignity — to limit the free exercise of faith and religion, to obscure the exercise of rights of conscience, to suppress the natural family, and to interfere with the educational choices of parents.
And what a more apt place to come to reflect on these matters than Rome.
Rome, which has witnessed countless scenes of religious oppression even unto the massive shedding of much innocent blood; and has celebrated other scenes of religious freedom unleashed, helping to build new cultures and great civilizations. Rome the ancient and great city. Rome that built the highways that opened the world to its own rule and then unto the spread of the Gospel. Rome that developed armies and governments that conquered and ruled and reigned over the world.
And Rome, Rome that learned that it demanded increased conformity, when it imposed ever increasing limits on the religious liberty of its citizens and residents – attempting to drive a new and growing sect underground — literally underground to the digging and using catacombs, to bury their dead, to be hidden from the light, the once-great Empire fell — Rome learned that the faith which some of its emperors had sought to wipe from the face of the earth — became that faith with which in 380 Constantine overtook the city.
As we look to the threats of the present overlain by the context of the past this week I pray we learn much.
We are going to visit one of the 40 known catacombs, part of the 375 miles of tunnels known that contain more than a million Christian graves.
Not bad for a group that started with 12 followers, one of which betrayed the others — and a couple of missionaries to Rome, one who arrived by prison ship — who later lost his head — and one other who was hung upside down to amuse a Circus crowd between chariot races.
And speaking of the tours we have assembled for you — We hope to have some fun while we are here, and frankly one of our objectives is to re-energize the joy of your personal faith — in addition to providing you useful information and many details through the legal briefing.
As we walk the Roman Fora together, view the ancient Senate, see where Augustus built his courthouse, see the Arch of Titus — which forever verifies the words of Christ recorded in Matt. 24:1-14 — and then walk on to the Arch of Constantine — built to celebrate the change of the guard and the gods — from the pagan to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob — adjacent to the Flavian Amphitheater — still known as the Coliseum, so nicknamed for the colossal statue of Nero — Nero who was the greatest example of the failure of anti-Christian bigotry! — and onto the Basilica of San Clement, first built in the fourth century from the home of a nobleman — to celebrate the True God of Rome — the Trine God that could not be defeated — let us keep “perspective.”
As we listen to the lectures and view the sites, please think of the cycles of freedom and slavery, of liberty, and of oppression for the people of faith.
Some of you have come a long way, and like us you may be “time-zone challenged” — so please know we appreciate your time and travel because your presence at this symposium is critical.
This symposium comes at a pivotal point for liberty and for people of faith all around the world.
In addition to the growing threat of international judicial activism, cultural indifference to the sanctity of life, and a concerted legal and cultural effort to redefine marriage and family, and serious efforts to limit religious freedom and the rights of conscience . . . there are growing efforts to punish those who dare disagree.
As we face these daunting challenges, it’s imperative that we strengthen our understanding and our existing relationships…and establish new ones with you…you who are key cultural influencers and respected members of the media.
Because, as we have learned, and as those who oppose us know all too well…relationships matter . . . especially those relationships built on accurate information; built on trust and on real human interaction, not just e-mails, press releases, and Twitter feeds.
On Loan From God
As we start our 21st year, Alliance Defending Freedom — with nearly 2,300 allied attorneys from 37 nations — attorneys on each Continent serving the people of their own regions — ADF stands at a crossroads with the global peoples of God, those of faith — as countries and nations, as the world, faces great peril on many fronts.
As I stand before you tonight, the efforts of Alliance Defending Freedom — its wins, its losses; its successes, its reputation, and its objectives — all are on loan to us from God.
For His purposes.
To serve and free and protect His people.
We recognize, “Apart from Christ, we can do nothing” (John 15:5).
But we also know that with Christ we can accomplish all things which He has called us to do.
As we address you tonight — please know — as we have been from the beginning of this ministry’s efforts — we are here to win.
We’re not here to play games or put in time — we are here to win.
As believers, we understand that we must look through the confusion and smoke of battles, and know that the painful struggles of today can give birth to a bright and promising tomorrow.
And when we look ahead we see a vast and good future that gives us reason for hope.
We see a day when our legal systems and our cultures, now in so many ways so set against the Truth of God, are transformed and protect the sacredness of life, marriage, family, and religious liberty.
But none of us are fooled into complacency . . . we all know what we are up against . . . formidable opponents who will stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Goals they publicly acknowledge.
We are up against those that seek to cleanse society of our faith, our values, and the proclamation of God’s Truth to achieve their totalitarian aims.
To set aside the Conventions and Declarations on Human Rights, or redefine their terms to suit their ends, not the ends of their authors of the ends of freedom, liberty, and human dignity.
As Pope John Paul II said in Centesimus Annus: “…history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism.”
Though few of those espousing opposing worldviews would say this, and only a few would understand the Holy Father’s words, this is the objective their demands require.
Throughout history, “utopians” have sought to reorder society by forging draconian new laws and forcing new behaviors on others.
Often these dictatorial decrees are done in the name of “equality,” which really means the subjugation of individuals, families, and society to the state and its currently fashionable schemes such utopians seek to set and control.
More often than not, throughout history, these utopians have seen their “revolutions” turn to violence and destruction . . . with punishment imposed on all who oppose the fabrication of their “new world orders.”
Usually, this is because the “new rights” and the “new order” pressed for by the agitators are not about human rights or liberty at all . . . but about the utopians wanting to defy the beliefs or conscience of — or plunder the goods, the possessions — of others.
And the end result, sadly, is less freedom for you, for them, for everyone.
For “where [such] equality is enthroned,” one writer said, “freedom is extinguished.”
There are many who do not like these terms, but we are engaged in a battle, a war of laws, words, ideas, and emotions — but most of all, in a spiritual battle…an often legal battle between those who believe in an eternal and unchanging God, and those who would twist, ignore, belittle, even outlaw the Truth of Scripture and the true freedom that obedience to it brings, to secure their own agendas.
These problems cross all national borders, and affect all our states.
We’ve represented several clergy in Latin America, Europe, and Canada charged with various so-called crimes of “hate expression” for communicating the non-negotiable basic values and teachings of their faith.
“Get A New Bible”
In Spain, a prosecutor this year agreed to investigate Fernando Cardinal Sebastian Aguilar after an advocacy group promoting homosexual behavior launched a legal action against him accusing him of “hate speech” for affirming the Catechism of the Catholic Church on human sexuality.
The president of the advocacy group said: “Spain is a modern country and a secular one, and these types of declarations from the church have to be punished. . . .”
Our attorneys are standing by to defend the cardinal and the Church if a case is launched against him.
This is just one example.
Here are two more:
Canadian Pastor Stephen Boissoin, an [ADF-allied] attorney client — was “barred for life” by the Alberta Human Rights Commission from any public or private speech about homosexual behavior — after his letter about such behavior appeared in a newspaper — until our allied attorneys won an appeal.
In Sweden, our client, Pastor Ake Green, was sentenced to prison for sharing the Gospel and his church’s teaching on sexual behavior in his own pulpit and in his own church.
When he was put on the stand before the Swedish Supreme Court, the prosecutor told him to “get a new Bible” that doesn’t condemn homosexual behavior.
And back in the United States, a high-ranking government official says even private beliefs should not be tolerated and that pockets of resistance based on faith must be eliminated.
Almost everywhere in the world today, people of sincere faith — and particularly many of those of the Jewish and Christian faiths — are under relentless legal attack for doing what, under God, they must do: protect life…preserve marriage and family . . . and manifest their faith with their words and their deeds.
Here in Europe, Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys are advocating for the protection of the right of conscience for medical professionals and midwives being ordered by their governments to participate in abortions.
And along the way, we must, in the words of U.S. Professor Hadley Arkes:
“. . . recover the understanding running back to Aristotle about the moral ground for the law:
“When the law overrides claims of personal freedom, the law bears the burden of showing that it is acting upon a principle of justice or rightness that would hold for anyone who comes within the reach of the law.”
When a law is unjust, it is unjust for all, and the burden should not be on the oppressed to show why they should not be oppressed, but the government to show why what is unjust has any authority over anyone.
A few more European cases:
Our attorneys and allies won a significant victory, with God’s grace, at the European Court of Human Rights on behalf of a British Airways employee who had been barred from wearing a simple Christian cross around her neck, even though other employees were allowed to wear symbols of their religions.
Crucifixes will remain in Italy’s classrooms after our attorneys and allies successfully argued on behalf of 33 members of the European Parliament from 11 nations that Italy was within its rights under the European Convention on Human Rights to display the crucifix in its school classrooms.
An “offended” parent had demanded that the crucifixes come down, but the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights firmly said “No.”
As a result of this decision, Christian symbols can remain publicly displayed throughout Europe — the “cleansing” of the public square many sought will not occur.
And, with God’s grace, along with the advocacy of our attorneys and many like-minded organizations, the Grand Chamber also upheld Ireland’s law barring abortion — stating that the European Convention on Human Rights does not contain a “right” to unlimited abortion.
Our attorneys helped defend Ireland’s law which — if overturned by the Grand Chamber — could have had huge implications on pro-life legislation and national sovereignty of other countries within the Council of Europe.
Another issue of concern is parental rights.
A few months ago, the Holy See addressed this issue at the United Nations General Assembly.
Earlier, Pope Benedict referenced parental rights as one of four “non-negotiable” issues for the Church.
Our Vienna team has litigated several cases to defend parental rights — in particular the right of parents to determine the best educational option for their children.
Our team is presently advocating for more than 300 Spanish parents seeking to opt their children out of mandatory radical “sexual education” classes.
These classes — oddly called “Education in Citizenship” — feature explicit sexual content, cartoons ridiculing Jesus, and openly mocking the Roman Catholic Church.
Parents and pro-family organizations filed more than 2,200 lawsuits against the government, stating these mandatory classes violated their right of conscience and religious convictions.
Our attorneys have assisted in taking the matter before the European Court of Human Rights where it is still pending.
In the meantime, the Spanish government has agreed to replace the compulsory course with different curriculum.
In Sweden, our attorneys are representing a home-schooling family whose then seven-year-old son was taken away from them by government officials — without a warrant — and placed in state-run foster care where he has remained for four years while the case winds its way through the justice system.
The officials did this even though home-schooling was legal in Sweden at the time.
In the meantime, his parents have been denied visitation, had their parental custody taken away, and the young boy — now 11 — languishes in the Swedish foster care system.
The family’s case has been taken by our attorneys to the European Court of Human Rights.
Our attorneys will also be filing complaints with the United Nations Committee in two other cases involving families imprisoned for home educating their children.
It is stories such as these that explain why Alliance Defending Freedom has engaged in Europe and across the globe — and why we must advocate tirelessly for your religious freedom.
As media professionals, you have the unique opportunity to be a loved voice for the silenced and the powerless . . . for the airline worker in Great Britain . . . for the medical professionals who know that all life is sacred . . . and for the families wanting only to provide the best educational option for their children.
You can be the light that brings these attacks on human dignity and rights of conscience to the forefront, that light that helps stop such attacks against people of faith…attacks against people who simply seek to exercise their God-given right of religious freedom, as protected by the Declaration of Human Rights.
And it is in the face of such enormous confusion and attacks on our freedom that we gather here these next few days to discuss the challenges that entangle all of us, in each of our respective nations, and focus on how we can craft a positive response.
And along the way you can help the World correct its misunderstanding of the Gospel, the Good News of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and its Truths about love, marriage, and family.
We, as our Lord, and all those who have come before us, all who are called to stand for and proclaim His Truth, face similar accusations and misunderstandings.
It was to some Romans the reason crops failed and battles were lost that the “pagan Christians” would not offer their pinch of incense to bow before the supposed true and real gods of the age. And those who would not so “render unto Caesar” faced grave punishments.
We must always, in charity, in great kindness, and with an excess of love seek to let those we stand against, know that we speak these Truths, as much, if not more so, for them than for any others.
We want those with whom we disagree to have the “safest of all environments” — the safety of a truly Christian society — where even with their disagreement they are treated with the dignity and respect which our Lord commands for all created Imago Deo.
Yes, this is hard to communicate in the “heat of battle” but it’s worth the effort.
Because the most Christian of societies, as the most just, is the “safest” environment of all.
President Ronald Reagan of the United States declared in 1985:
“. . . the essential element of . . . defen[ding] freedom is our insistence on speaking out for the cause of religious liberty. . . . We are our brother’s keepers, all of us.
“We, your brothers and sisters in God, have made your cause our cause, and we vow never to relent until you have regained the freedom that is your birthright as a child of God.”
At Alliance Defending Freedom, we will not relent until the freedom that is the birthright of us all — especially “the least of these” — the poor, the powerless, the silenced — all the children of God, has been protected and restored.
We are here this week to serve you in any way we can as you seek to use your gifts and your professional talents to shine the light for liberty.
Thank you for spending the next few days with us and may it bless many who cannot speak for or defend themselves.
God bless you all.