Religious Faith at the Service of our Nation

As the Church in the United States observes Religious Freedom Week, June 22-29, with the theme of Serving Others in God’s Love, it is important for all to recognize the role that religion has played in service of a free and just society. Indeed, while our nation’s founders came from a variety of faith traditions, they uniformly agreed that there could be no freedom without God.

The Declaration of Independence itself recognizes the self-evident truth that fundamental rights and liberties are not man-made, but have their origin in our loving Creator. And just a few days before our nation’s birth, John Adams wrote to a relative saying that statesmen might “plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand” (Letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776).

At the later Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin asked that prayer be offered to begin each day’s session, attesting that “the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth – that God governs in the affairs of men” (Speech of June 28, 1787). Likewise, George Washington, widely lauded as the “father of our country” and our first president, counselled, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports” (Farewell Address, September 19, 1796).

That same religious faith which marked our nation’s beginnings, with its wide range of religious traditions, continues to thrive, inspire, form and give identity to who we are today. Since, as Catholics we are both citizens of the kingdom of God and citizens of a country that has long prided itself on being “the land of the free,” we expect the presence of God to be appreciated in public life and our own identity respected.

The generosity of spirit of the first Catholic colonists led them to pioneer the establishment in Maryland of a civil government based on religious liberty. Today, together with other religious believers, we stand as we have ever since – ready to serve our nation in the public square, sharing God’s love, helping in particular the poor and vulnerable, and shining the light of God’s wisdom into the heart of the great American experience. In this way, we contribute to the common good, advance human dignity, and foster the natural and spiritual prosperity of our people.

Rooted in faith and aware of God’s providential care, we continue to pray with confidence and hope that God will bless our nation. This we do because we are a people of faith and, therefore, a people of prayer. In our fervent and sincere prayer, all of us recognize our relationship to God and God’s care for us individually and collectively. This is the reason we can pray, “God bless America.”