Pope Francis Leaves Out Seculars In Speech About Religious Freedom

screencap of Pope Francis speaking in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Saturday 9-26-2015
Pope Francis speaking in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia on Saturday 9-26-2015

Pope Francis gave a speech about religious freedom in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. While he made some good points about the importance of religious freedom, any mention of the non-religious was missing. Religious freedom is just as important to secular people as it is to the religious.

Popepalooza hit Philadelphia on Saturday and Pope Francis gave a speech in front of iconic Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were both signed. The topic was religious freedom. I was interested to hear what he had to say about it.

There were some points I could agree with:

But history also shows that these or any truths must constantly be reaffirmed, re-appropriated and defended. The history of this nation is also the tale of a constant effort, lasting to our own day, to embody those lofty principles in social and political life. We remember the great struggles which led to the abolition of slavery, the extension of voting rights, the growth of the labor movement, and the gradual effort to eliminate every kind of racism and prejudice directed at successive waves of new Americans. This shows that, when a country is determined to remain true to its founding principles, based on respect for human dignity, it is strengthened and renewed.

All of us benefit from remembering our past. A people which remembers does not repeat past errors; instead, it looks with confidence to the challenges of the present and the future. Remembrance saves a people’s soul from whatever or whoever would attempt to dominate it or use it for their interests. When individuals and communities are guaranteed the effective exercise of their rights, they are not only free to realize their potential, they also contribute to the welfare and enrichment of society.

Full text of speech by Pope Francis at Independence Hall 09-26-2015, as it was delivered

Yes our freedoms need to be defended all the time and that people who exercise their freedoms tended to have a good life. Those people also contribute to the community. He also said the dignity of the human person and human rights are very important, which is true.

I also agreed with his call for people to help other people to eliminate injustice and that governments exist to protect and defend our rights.

Where I differed with the Pope is where he claimed that God was the source of all life, liberty and happiness. Which is a common disagreement.

A larger disagreement comes from this:

In this place which is symbolic of the American way, I would like to reflect with you on the right to religious freedom. It is a fundamental right which shapes the way we interact socially and personally with our neighbors whose religious views differ from our own. Religious freedom certainly means the right to worship God, individually and in community, as our consciences dictate. But religious liberty, by its nature, transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families. Religious freedom isn’t a subculture, it’s a part of every people and nation.

Our various religious traditions serve society primarily by the message they proclaim. They call individuals and communities to worship God, the source of all life, liberty and happiness. They remind us of the transcendent dimension of human existence and our irreducible freedom in the face of every claim to absolute power. We need but look at history, especially the history of the last century, to see the atrocities perpetrated by systems which claimed to build one or another “earthly paradise” by dominating peoples, subjecting them to apparently indisputable principles and denying them any kind of rights.

The Pope missed an opportunity to include secular people having the right to religious freedom. I don’t think his point that religious liberty “transcends places of worship and the private sphere of individuals and families” is the only part of religious freedom to consider.

Unconstrained “religious liberty” is what gives us people like Kim Davis in Kentucky, the war against women’s reproductive rights, and things like ‘In God We Trust’ stickers on police cars. The Pope and others may think religious freedom exists outside their private lives but it also means recognizing “your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins…“.

I did appreciate the Pope speaking out against people who try to use religion “as a pretext for hatred and brutality” and I liked his call for “the followers of the various religions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and rights of others.

We differed on points of theology but overall Pope Francis made some good points about religious freedom and the relationship between people’s religion and the community at large.

I just wished, at such a public speech, the Pope would have included secular people because it means just as much to us.


While on his way back to Rome Sunday night, it seems that Pope Francis took the side of bigoted Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The pontiff was asked: “Do you … support those individuals, including government officials, who say they cannot in good conscience, their own personal conscience, abide by some laws or discharge their duties as government officials, for example when issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”

He did not refer specifically to Davis in his reply, saying: “I can’t have in mind all the cases that can exist about conscientious objection … but yes, I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right. It is a right. And if a person does not allow others to be a conscientious objector, he denies a right.”

Francis added: “Conscientious objection must enter into every juridical structure because it is a right, a human right. Otherwise we would end up in a situation where we select what is a right, saying, ‘this right that has merit, this one does not.'”

Asked if this principle applied to government officials carrying out their duties, he replied: “It is a human right and if a government official is a human person, he has that right. It is a human right.”

Francis’ remarks were translated by pool reporters aboard the plane, and were not an official translation.

Pope: Workers have ‘human right’ to refuse gay marriage licenses

According to the report the Pope said people like Davis have a right to have a conscientious objection based on religion but he said nothing about being shielded from the consequences of that objection.

Kim Davis can decide to discriminate but she doesn’t have the right to keep her job or avoid any other consequences of her decision.

Now we know why the Pope left out seculars in his religious freedom speech.


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