December 29 was the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket. Beckett was killed on December 29, 1170.
He was a statesman, scholar, chancellor, priest, archbishop, and defender of religious liberty.
Before the Magna Carta was ever drafted, Becket gave his life so “the Church will attain liberty and peace.”
A son of a London sheriff who was once described as “a low‑born clerk” by King Henry III who ordered eventually ordered him to be killed, Becket rose to become an archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England.
After Becket refused to sign the Constitutions of Clarendon, King Henry II threatened to hold him in contempt of royal authority. In response, Becket famously said, “God is the supreme ruler, above Kings” and “we ought to obey God rather than men.”
Because he would not submit, Becket was forced to forfeit all his property and eventually fled his own country. After being in exile for six years, and after intervention by the pope, Becket return to England where he continued to defend religious liberty.
Ultimately, he was given an ultimatum: submit to the king’s demands or die. Becket replied: “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.”
Becket was killed inside the walls of his church.
In a proclamation issued by President Donald Trump, the president states:
“Thomas Becket’s martyrdom changed the course of history. It eventually brought about numerous constitutional limitations on the power of the state over the Church across the West. In England, Becket’s murder led to the Magna Carta’s declaration 45 years later that: ‘[T]he English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.’
“It is because of great men like Thomas Becket that the first American President George Washington could proclaim more than 600 years later that, in the United States, ‘All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship” and that “it is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.’
“Thomas Becket’s death serves as a powerful and timeless reminder to every American that our freedom from religious persecution is not a mere luxury or accident of history, but rather an essential element of our liberty. It is our priceless treasure and inheritance. And it was bought with the blood of martyrs.
“As Americans, we were first united by our belief that ‘rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God’ and that defending liberty is more important than life itself. If we are to continue to be the land of the free, no government official, no governor, no bureaucrat, no judge, and no legislator must be allowed to decree what is orthodox in matters of religion or to require religious believers to violate their consciences.
“No right is more fundamental to a peaceful, prosperous, and virtuous society than the right to follow one’s religious convictions.”
Earlier this year, Trump signed an Executive Order prioritizing religious freedom as a core dimension of U.S. foreign policy. In it every ambassador and more than 13,000 U.S. Foreign Service officers and specialists in more than 195 countries were directed “to promote, defend, and support religious freedom as a central pillar of American diplomacy.”