Americans have been blessed with an unprecedented level of religious freedom—a fact that can sometimes lull us into complacency. We tend to think that the freedom we have now will always be there, but the truth is, freedom cannot continue to exist if it is not thoughtfully and tenaciously defended every day, in ways great and small. I was privileged to spend time this past weekend with such a defender of freedom, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who received the 2013 William Wilberforce Award from the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview.
We at the Colson Center present the Wilberforce Award each year to a person who exemplifies the values of the heroic abolitionist William Wilberforce, whose tireless efforts led to the banning of slavery in 19th-century Great Britain. The award was established in the late '80s by my friend, the late Chuck Colson, to honor men and women who are living out the ideals of one of Chuck's greatest heroes.
On Saturday, Cardinal Dolan received the award in recognition of his efforts on behalf of life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty in America—particularly his efforts against restrictive aspects of the new health care legislation. Ever since the Department of Health and Human Services handed down its contraception mandate, violating the right to conscience, Cardinal Dolan has been one of the strongest and most consistent voices to lead the opposition. Clearly, winsomely, and repeatedly, he has made the case that the HHS mandate is an "immoral" attack on America's "first and most cherished freedom."
In accepting the award in his typically humorous fashion, Dolan humbly told a packed ballroom in Arlington, Va., that he was accepting it on behalf of all Catholic bishops in the United States who have held steadfast in their opposition to the HHS mandate. He also went on to extol the great work that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are doing together as "co-workers in the vineyard, especially in bringing the light of the Gospel to a culture often in the dark on noble issues, such as the defense of innocent, vulnerable life, the protection of marriage as revealed by God's Word . . . and the advocacy of our first and most-cherished freedom."
Through his words and actions, Cardinal Dolan has demonstrated—not just to us at the Colson Center but to all who claim the Christian faith—what it means to be a leader in the ongoing fight for religious liberty. His strength and commitment are an inspiration to all of us who believe in that right, and a reminder of just how valuable it is. Cardinal Dolan is, as Chuck Colson used to say, "helping to make the invisible Kingdom visible," and in the process, he is helping to make certain that our most important freedoms will endure.
That's something for which all of us can be grateful.:::page break:::