Note: The following are remarks made by Gov. Mitt Romney at the Metropolitan Club in New York City where he accepted the Becket Fund’s Canterbury Medal for his defense of religious liberty.
It is an honor for Ann and me to be with you this evening. We have a lot of friends who work with the Becket Fund. As you can imagine, that makes your recognition even more meaningful.
Your mission--and my topic this evening—involve the intertwining of religion and government. It’s not a new topic. It was in the 12th century that Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Beckett famously refused to allow Henry II to control the Church of England. As you are well aware, his conviction came with a high price: he was killed by the king’s soldiers in his own cathedral.
Our religious liberty in America was bought in large measure by the sacrifice of men and women like Thomas Beckett.
The battle for religious freedom is not over, nor is it likely to ever be. I appreciate the work you do to protect a fundamental human liberty and to defend those who are modern victims of religious intolerance and persecution.
As you know, I gave a speech about religious liberty during the height of my campaign. This was not a speech I was forced to give, it was a speech I wanted to give. I felt that I had a unique opportunity to address in a very public way the role of faith in America.
In the days that followed, my remarks drew a considerable amount of congratulatory comment…and some criticism as well. The criticism was a good thing, of course. It meant that my words were not like the proverbial tree falling in the forest—unheard and unheeded. It also gave me an opportunity to go back and re-think, and that presents an opportunity for more learning.
Several commentators, for instance, argued that I had failed to sufficiently acknowledge the contributions that had been made by atheists. At first, I brushed this off—after all this was a speech about faith in America, not non-faith in America. Besides, I had not enumerated the contributions of believers—why should non-believers get special treatment?
But upon reflection, I realized that while I could defend their absence from my address, I had missed an opportunity…an opportunity to clearly assert that non-believers have just as great a stake as believers in defending religious liberty.
Mitt Romney served as the Governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007 and is a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008. His campaign website for campaign news and volunteer activities is http://www.mittromney.com/