Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted addressed a crowd of 1,000 people June 8 outside of the federal court building in Phoenix. Crowds of men, women, children, priests and deacons united to oppose the federal HHS mandate. (J.D. Long-García/CATHOLIC SUN)

Following is the text of the remarks made by Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted at the June 8, 2012, Stand Up for Religious Freedom Rally in Phoenix:

In the movie released a week ago, “For Greater Glory,” the leader of the campaign for religious freedom in Mexico, less than a century ago, General Enrique Gorostieta Velarde, tells his troops assembled for a pivotal battle, “Today we send a message to Calles [the President of Mexico], and to the world. Freedom is not a word just for writers, politicians or fancy documents. It is our wives, it our children, it is our homes, it is our faith, it is our lives… it is not only our duty, it’s our right.”

Who are we? All of us gathered here in Phoenix and in 160 other cities across the United States today? Who are we and why are we here? When John the Baptist was asked, “Who are you?” he replied by saying who he was not: “I am not the Messiah… not Elijah… not the prophet.” Sometimes to explain who we are, it is best to say who we are not. So, who are we not?

We are not people waging a war on women — even though our opponents portray us this way. We are not waging a war on anyone. However, we are standing up and saying that something is deeply flawed in our land when the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services is telling people, like those at a NARAL gathering, last year, “We are in a war.” When the government is at war with its own citizens, then something has gone wrong, gravely wrong. When a government assaults the first freedom of human persons — the freedom of religion, then those citizens must rise up and ask, “Who are you to be at war with the people you are called to serve?”

Secondly, we are not an elite interested only in the interests of an insignificant minority. Rather, we stand for freedom for all and thus insist that the Declaration of Independence not be violated, especially those famous words that still stir our hearts: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Third, we are not here because we oppose health care, especially for women and children. But we are here to say loud and clear that drugs that induce abortions are not health care. Authentic health care prevents disease and offers medical support to all, including unborn children and their mothers; it does not kill anyone. It seeks first of all to do no harm.

Fourth, we are not here out of loyalty to any political party. We are here out of loyalty to God and as loyal citizens of our country. Members of our own government have launched an assault on our right to serve our Creator, not only in worship and not only at home but also in the public square and in our place of work.

Fifth, we are not people interested in forcing others to believe in God. But we are here because we believe in God, and because our nation’s founders did as well. George Washington, our first President, said in his farewell address, that religion and morality are “indispensible supports of our political prosperity.” His successor, John Adams, insisted that “our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” Without these, he contended, the nation could not endure. And when the framers of our Constitution adopted amendments, religions freedom had the distinction of being the First; it states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

One final “not” needs to be mentioned: the greatest threat to religious freedom does not come from recent decisions of our federal government, although we certainly find those unjust and deeply troubling. The greatest threat to our freedom comes from cowardice and indifference within our own souls. No government can force us to betray our consciences. It may make us pay a heavy price for following them; it may exact great sacrifice for putting our faith into practice but no one can make us betray it. This is why people like St. Thomas More and Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. deserve our admiration and respect, and why we pray for the grace to follow in their footsteps. For, in the hour of decision, they had the courage to follow their own consciences, no matter the cost. Perhaps this is why Charles Peguy said, “Freedom is a system based on courage.” Or as General Gorostieta Velarde said: “Freedom is not a word just for writers, politicians or fancy documents. It is our wives, it our children, it is our homes, it is our faith, it is our lives… it is not only our duty, it’s our right.”

Bishop Olmsted offers a final blessing at the lunchtime rally. (Ambria Hammel/CATHOLIC SUN)

For more photos from the rally, find our photo album on Facebook.