HLI President Father Shenan J. Boquet was a featured speaker at the Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally held on June 8, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
Transcript of the speech follows. See pictures of the event here.
I’d like to begin this afternoon by using a quote that we are all familiar with. It is written on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty, of Lady Liberty, and maybe its words [are some] that our nation has forgotten, and many people have ignored over the past few years. It’s taken from Emma Lazarus’ poem, and I’ll use just one verse of it: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
To breathe free. The ability to live according to our conscience. To live according to what we know is an unalienable right that no one can invade and no one can take away.
I remember as a young boy I was introduced to a priest who survived Auschwitz. I remember him vividly because I grew up under his care and under his guidance. He would often speak of freedom. He would speak of the cost of the freedom. He himself understood what tyranny does; he understood what communism does; he understood what Nazism does because he lived it. It was etched on his own body. He understood.
Often times, he would stand up on the pulpit and preach about freedom, and many times people in the congregation, especially those whose memory had long forgotten the war, would look at him as an old man and say, “What is he talking about? This is America.”
Well, here we are today where America is challenging our basic freedom, our most basic freedom: the ability to worship, the ability to practice our faith, to follow that faith, to live that faith and to have the conscious awareness of what is right from wrong. And to live it fully and completely, and not have the government tell me what I will or will not do with regard to [my conscience].
Father [Stanislaus] Manikowski lived to be in his nineties, and I will tell you that he never stopped speaking of freedom. He never stopped. And he would remind me so vividly that as a priest, as a preacher of the Gospel, to make sure that the dignity of every person is given that opportunity to have life, because his government and those who imposed that policy upon him in his native land took away those things and actually tried to take away his life. God allowed him, permitted him, to live into a ripe old age, and with every [breath in] his lungs, he preached the message of freedom.
So today I’m asking you as a priest who works at an organization called Human Life International where around the world I see the effects of governments that take away the liberty of its people. I recognize in parts of the world where I would be arrested for standing right here in this place speaking this way to you today. You could be arrested for standing up and speaking as you are speaking today. But we live in a nation where we have that wondrous gift.
Don’t let anyone take it from you.