Thomas Aquinas College’s future chaplain, Fr. Joseph Illo, last Friday delivered the keynote address at the “Stand Up for Religious Freedom” rally in San Francisco. During his talk, Fr. Illo told rally attendees that “we can never adapt to a violation of our foundational right.”
To illustrate the drastic need to defend our religious liberty now, Fr. Illo described the long-term negative effects of the loss of religious liberty in Russia during the course of the last century.
But what will Philadelphia look like in 50 years if we surrender our First Amendment rights? What will San Francisco, or New York, or Chicago look like if we lose this battle?
Here’s more from the keynote address:
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 ago 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. Two-hundred-sixty 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.
… 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.
In 2002 I visited our sister parish in Vladivostok. I’ll never forget the impression this Soviet city of 1 million presented as we flew in: not one steeple or dome, not one cultural monument, to break the miles of deteriorating apartment buildings and grey factories. The Soviets had decided to revoke every religious liberty. With religion removed from the public square, the government became hopelessly corrupt, culture declined, and the economy collapsed. In a society that looks to the government as the highest moral authority, lying, cheating, and stealing are indispensable business practices. As the producer the current movie For Greater Glory recently said, “No one ever wins when religion is oppressed.” What is happening in the United States today? Mary Ann Glendon summed it up last month: “At the deepest level, we are witnessing an attack on the institutions of civil society that are essential to limited government and are important buffers between the citizen and the all-powerful state.”
Thomas Aquinas College in Southern California recently published anOpen letter to President Obama. “It is manifestly an affront to the American conception of religious liberty and to the first amendment of the U.S. 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.”
Read the entire keynote address from the Rally here.
Fr. Illo is currently pastor of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Modesto, Calif. He is scheduled to join the Thomas Aquinas College community as a chaplain this summer.
TAC is recommended by The Cardinal Newman Society in The Newman Guide for its strong Catholic identity.
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