Religious liberty is 'endangered,' warns Hispanic Christian leader

Rev Samuel Rodriguez Courtesy of the American Religious Freedom Program CNA US Catholic News 5 30 13 Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. Courtesy of the American Religious Freedom Program.

Current threats to religious freedom in the United States demand that people of faith speak out in defense of their fundamental rights, said Rev. Samuel Rodriguez.

"Freedom of religion in America can best be characterized in the year 2013 as nothing other than an 'endangered species,'" cautioned Rodriguez in a May 30 speech.

"The voice of our faith stands to be silenced: it is time to rise up," the evangelical pastor exhorted the crowd.

Rodriguez, the president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, spoke at the 2013 National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C. The event was sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center's American Religious Freedom Program.

The multi-faith conference featured presentations and discussions on religious liberty by Catholic, evangelical Christian, mainline Protestant, Latter-day Saint, Eastern Orthodox, Jewish, Seventh-day Adventist, Muslim and Sikh speakers.

In his address, Rodriguez explained that the United States "emerged from the womb of religious liberty." The country has a strong history of religious pluralism and freedom, grounded in the idea that this freedom comes from God rather than earthly government, he explained.

It is this "commitment to religious pluralism, diversity and tolerance" that is America's "greatest export" and the feature that makes the nation "exceptional," he said.

However, he continued, "we live in a time where the very freedom to express our respected faith narratives stands threatened."

He cited examples of conflict between government and religious faiths, such as Churches being prohibited from teaching their beliefs on sexuality, the absence of conscience protections and the HHS mandate that requires religious organizations to offer health insurance plans covering contraception, sterilization and some drugs that may cause early abortions.

"The rejection of this foundational framework will surely result in chaos, angst and the potential termination of our noble experiment," he warned.

Rodriguez cautioned that "to silence faith is to silence the moral conscience of our nation," adding that to obstruct religious liberty "is to obstruct the forces that reconcile righteousness with justice, covenant with community, sanctification with service, and faith with action."

"To oppress religious freedom is to deny the prophetic while granting amnesty to the pathetic," the pastor stated.

While conference participants come from diverse religious backgrounds, he observed, they share "a spirit of interfaith cooperation."

"We are here by faith and for faith," he said, and this faith "empowers us to see the invisible, embrace the impossible and hope for the incredible," while at the same time, it "exhorts us to care for the poor, speak for the marginalized, welcome the stranger all while doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly before God."

As a Christian, Rodriguez stated, "I understand that defending religious freedom stems not from the agenda of the donkey or the elephant but rather from the agenda of the lamb."

"This is not a conservative, liberal, Christian, Jewish or Muslim endeavor," he emphasized. "Protecting religious freedom emerges as the quintessential exercise within this experiment we call the American experience."

Religious freedom "cannot be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency," the pastor said, and persons of faith "cannot be silent" when religious freedom is restricted.

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He warned that "a posture of complacency today will result in a position of captivity tomorrow."

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