“It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to Him,” wrote James Madison in his Memorial and Remonstrance. “This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”
That’s quite a statement, coming from the same man who authored the straightforward assertion that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” One is left with the overwhelming conviction that Mr. Madison, like most of his fellow Founding Fathers, put a priority on one’s responsibility to his own conscience – even above his responsibility to his country, his government, or the prevailing political winds of society.
That assertion, as Father Richard Neuhaus said, is what makes the free exercise of religion “the irreplaceable cornerstone” of “the American experiment”:
“‘We hold these truths,’ the Founders declared. And when these truths about the ‘unalienable rights’ with which men are ‘endowed by their Creator’ are no longer firmly held by the American people and robustly advanced in the public square, this experiment will have come to an end.”
Those words are but a few drops from the fountain of thoughtful reflection that sprang from the living waters in the soul of Father Neuhaus, one of the most prominent church leaders in America and one of the most influential theologians and political philosophers of the last 50 years.
The fountain ceased on January 8, when he passed away at 72, but the living waters still flow. And Father Neuhaus’ single-minded commitment to that “duty” Madison describes, and his own robust efforts to advance the cause of Truth and religious liberty, will undoubtedly influence his fellow Americans for many years to come.
I was one among the multitude of those blessed by Father Neuhaus’ wise, personal counsel; to witness the astonishing breadth of religious and political belief represented at his memorial service last week was to recognize the truly remarkable impact one man can still have on his times, if that man is committed, heart and soul, to his convictions…and expresses those convictions with love and grace.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.