The Manhattan Declaration hosted a successful briefing and rally this afternoon “across the river” at St John’s University in Queens, New York. Founded by the late evangelical prison ministry leader Chuck Colson, Catholic ethicist Robert George of Princeton University (also an IRD emeritus board member) and Baptist theologian Timothy George, the Declaration champions religious freedom, traditional marriage, and sanctity of life.
Before a filled auditorium, George shared the platform with Alan Sears of the Alliance Defense Fund, which litigates in defense of religious freedom.
“Religious liberty is under assault as never before,” Sears noted. “There’ve been many more attacks..than any signer could have imagined,” he said of the Declaration, which launched in 2009. “We’ve already seen many inspiring acts of heroic courage.”
Some Christians are having to choose between their livelihood or their Christian conscience, Sears lamented. Citing a pastor in Sweden charged with hate speech for preaching from his pulpit against homosexual acts and told by a prosecutor to “get a new Bible,” Sears predicted such cases are a “little taste of what lies ahead…if we surrender to Caesar.” He warned that “without religious freedom there is no freedom.” Despite the assaults on many fronts, Sears celebrated that religious freedom is slowly “winning” in the courts and in and public opinion.
George echoed Sears in hopefulness while not underestimating the struggles ahead. “I love this experiment in ordered liberty,” he said. “I want the USA to go on and on. But we have no guarantee.” He warned that to “push religion into the private sphere…dishonors freedom of religion.” And he encouraged the enthusiastic audience to persevere as “bullying only works if we allow ourselves to be silenced.” Christians are called to “sacrificial love,” even if it entails being called names or losing reputations, he reminded. Whatever the adversity, George urged traditionalists to “engage our fellow citizens” with dignity and respect. “It’s hard to be called a hater when you’re acting out of love,” he surmised, while citing counsel from 19th century escaped slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas: “Agitate, agitate, agitate.”
Issuing a similar call to agitate, pro-life leader Marjorie Dannenfelser of the Susan B. Anthony List regretted that the “weakest among us are not being protected.” And she warned: “You can’t build rights on the broken rights of others.” William Mumma of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty noted that in today’s culture wars “religion is not an accidental victim, it is the target” for radical secularists. “When government tries to murder religion it may murder religious liberty but not religion,” he promised, as faith will survive amid persecution.
Eric Teetsel of the Manhattan Declaration recalled President Thomas Jefferson assuring a Catholic nun, who worried over the French Revolution’s war on religion, that in America her church and all churches would have no “interference from civil authority,” with “all the protection that my office can give it,” with a “guarantee [that] will be preserved sacred and inviolate.” Teetsel declared that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.”
“The Manhattan Declaration Crosses the River” was opened by Catholic Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn. I sat next to a delightful woman who is very active on marriage and religious liberty issues in the Brooklyn Diocese. She praised her bishop while noting that many Catholic priests are refusing to speak. At some meetings, she noticed, the most enthusiastic remarks come from evangelical clergy of all races, for which she was grateful. She was a former nurse who served in old South Vietnam until the very end, witnessing the onrushing Communist conquest and tragic extinguishing of freedom. Quite clearly she was deeply committed to preserving America’s sacred liberties, as were many others in audience.