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Robert George, John Dilulio, Rick Warren

Speaking at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. today (February 12), megachurch pastor and bestselling author Rick Warren vigorously extoled the importance of religious liberty.  His voice cracking with emotion, he announced he would launch a daily radio show and host a conference on religious freedom that would include Catholic Archbishop Timothy Dolan and the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops.

“Religious liberty is the civil rights issue of the next decade,” Warren declared.  He recalled that after the Obamacare mandate compelling religious institutions to subsidize contraceptives and abortifacients was announced, he phoned Cardinal Dolan, pledging his willingness to “go to jail” in protest.

Warren recalled that for over 30 years he has resisted doing a radio program.  Noting his love of America and a “real sense of discouragement in the country,” he has decided to launch a new program, hopefully starting in April, called “Daily Hope.”  He explained that America as a nation “needs some hope” right now.  He is planning a National Congress on Religious Liberty in June in sync with the Catholic bishops’ national meeting in San Diego to allow their participation.   It will feature about 50 speakers and will be by invitation only for institutional leaders.  Warren promised:  “I intend to make a splash.”

Hosting Warren’s talk at Georgetown University was the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs’ Religious Freedom Project, headed by former U.S. State Department official Tom Farr, who is also an IRD board member.  Warren initially talked to an audience of hundreds in historic Healy Hall.  He later spoke to dozens at a private dinner on campus, sharing the platform with Princeton University’s Catholic ethicist Robert George, who’s an IRD emeritus board member.

“I’m not a Protestant, I stopped protesting the Catholic Church years ago,” Warren smilingly explained, describing himself as an evangelical.  He is an ordained Southern Baptist, although his southern California Saddleback Church does not advertise its denomination.  “I stand 100 percent with my Catholic brothers and sisters,” he said of protests against the HHS mandate.  “It’s not like contraceptives are hard to get.  You can get them for free.”   Warren also complained of the “audacity” of the government trying to tell churches how to do health care.  Churches invented the idea of hospitals, he noted, and have been doing health care for 2000 years. 

Warren described religion as “far more than worship” and including freedom to believe and practice faith in every human arena.  “Freedom is extremely fragile,” he warned.  “We must protect it or it won’t last.”  Warren observed that 75 percent of the world’s population lives under restrictions of religious liberty, and that in America there have been “little bites at the first freedom.” 

As a Christian, Warren believes that, “If God gives me that choice [to choose to believe or not to believe] then I owe you that choice.”  Religious freedom is “not given by the state but by God.”   Faith is not genuine if it is forced, he said.  In today’s secular culture “lots of people are so afraid of coercion they’re afraid of persuasion.”  He hailed religious freedom as the “most important issue of the Constitution,” the “foundational” freedom of America, and the freedom that “determines all the other freedoms.”

Warren hoped that religious freedom would not become a “code word” for one political party but will be defended by both parties in America.  He cited efforts to ban circumcision of infants and children in San Francisco and Germany as worrisome.  “Today no circumcisions, tomorrow no baptisms,” he wondered.  He also noted the irony that under the hyper secularist mindset “you can kill babies but not make religious decisions for them.”

Noting his own extensive overseas humanitarian work, especially in Rwanda, Warren described a “growing resentment against America for imposing beliefs” through a foreign policy advocating abortion and homosexuality, prompting some countries to reject U.S. aid with these conditions attached.   Unlike the old liberalism of tolerance, he said, “today’s liberalism has a whole laundry list of issues, saying you have to agree with us on homosexuality and abortion.”

Reiterating Warren’s point, George said that the U.S. is now trying to internationalize the Western sexual revolution, with a “Margaret Sanger, Hugh Heffner philosophy driving foreign policy.”  Most nations “don’t want plane loads of condoms,” he said.  “They want penicillin.”

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