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Franks Opening Statement During Constitution Subcommittee Hearing on “The State of Religious Liberty in the United States”
Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thank you all for being here. Today, the subcommittee will examine the state of religious liberty in America. This continues a tradition of this subcommittee of holding a hearing on this topic each Congress.
I will now recognize myself for an opening statement.
Thomas Jefferson once said, "The constitutional freedom of religion [is] the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights."
Religious liberty is our first freedom and it is the cornerstone of all other human freedoms. The Bill of Rights passed by the First Congress included protections for religious freedom because without religious liberty and freedom of conscience, all other liberties cease to exist. Indeed, religious liberty is the wellspring of our other liberties and a defining statement of freedom in America.
This belief is something that has set America apart from all other nations since the Declaration of Independence declared nearly 240 years ago that we hold it a self evident truth that all men are created equal. Ladies and Gentlemen, the foundational and quintessential premise of America is that we are all created children of God, equal in His sight, and that we are endowed by our Creator with the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness. America's founding premise is itself an intrinsic expression of religious conviction.
Consequently, the Obama Administration's flippant willingness to fundamentally abrogate America's priceless religious freedom in the name of leftist social engineering is of grave concern to me, and should be to all of us.
The most egregious examples from the Administration include their concerted effort to force religious ministries like the Little Sisters of the Poor to purchase abortifacient drugs and contraceptives. With breathtaking arrogance, this Administration also told the Supreme Court two years ago in the Hosanna-Tabor case, that government should have a say in deciding who could be a pastor, priest, or rabbi—in short, who could preach and teach religion. This was unanimously rejected by the Supreme court as “untenable” and “extreme.”
This Administration seems to casually ignore the historical fact that religious liberty involves much more than freedom of worship alone, and that the fundamental rights of free speech and the free exercise of religion do not stop at the exit door of your local house of worship, but instead, extend to every area of life.
So-called anti-discrimination policies that make no exception for religious beliefs threaten religious liberty. For most religious groups, public service is an essential element of their religious beliefs. Religious groups in America establish hospitals, operate homeless shelters, provide counseling services, and run agencies for adoption and foster care for children who might otherwise have no one else in the world to help them.
Those who refuse to respect the public component of religious liberty, and fail to accommodate religion in our generally applicable laws, are putting many innocent people as well as the religious freedom that undergirds America, in grave danger.
Oftentimes, religious freedom is suppressed in the name of a ‘‘strict wall of separation between church and state.’’
While that phrase did indeed appear prominently in the Soviet constitution, it appears nowhere in the United States Constitution, and the profound historical misinterpretation of that phrase by the secular left leaves me without adequate expression.
Sometime ago a Marxist economist from China was coming to the end of a Fulbright Fellowship in Boston. When asked if he had learned anything that was surprising or unexpected, without hesitation he said, "Yeah, I had no idea how critical religion is to the functioning of democracy."
Ladies and Gentlemen, it bears careful reflection that many men and women have died in darkness so that Americans could walk in the light of religious freedom. They gave all they had because they knew that religious freedom is critical to the survival of all other freedoms. It is so very important for us, now and always, to resist the ubiquitous efforts by the secular left to do away with religious freedom in America as they have successfully done in so many other parts of the world.
In America, every individual has the right to religious freedom and First Amendment expression so long as they do not deny the constitutional rights of another. True tolerance does not mean that we have no differences, it means that we are obligated as members of the human family to be kind and respectful to each other in spite of those differences, religious or otherwise.
I would like to thank our witnesses for being here, and I look forward to hearing from them about some of the unique challenges now facing this cornerstone of freedom in the United States. And I now yield to the Ranking Member, Mr. Cohen, for his opening statement.