Guarding Religious Liberty
A tale of two countries: Mexico, 1926, versus the U.S., 2012.

Andy Garcia in For Greater Glory (New Land Films)


Carl A. Anderson

In the United States today, as in Mexico in the 1920s, government leaders speak about “freedom of worship.” It’s a phrase that does not appear in our Constitution. As Americans, we are guaranteed something much broader: the free exercise of religion. But that hasn’t stopped government attempts to forbid religious displays in public.

But again, there are differences as well as similarities. In Mexico in the 1920s, the government’s attempt to suppress religion fostered a violent reaction. In the United States, such conflicts are resolved through courts and legislation and at the ballot box. There is no talk here of banning clerical garb, although there is a not so subtle attempt to define religion as a purely private matter.

The Cristero War in Mexico was the result of a failed legal system and a dictatorship bent on destroying the influence of the Church in the lives of the people. Mexico had no separation of powers, no legal process by which the people could protect themselves. Eliás Calles once famously noted that if people did not submit to his laws, they would submit to his guns.

Here in the United States, our government derives its power from the consent of the governed — something we see in every election and in every court decision that the government must abide by.

Watching For Greater Glory should crystallize for the viewer how blessed we are to live in a country where vibrant debate can be carried out in courtrooms and in the court of public opinion; where we can vote, and can ask our elected representatives to represent us; and if they won’t, next time we can vote for people who will.

The fact is that in the United States we are “one nation under God,” operating under the rule of law as citizens “endowed by our Creator” with unalienable rights that the state cannot abrogate.

Such an understanding is not partisan. It is American. It represents the views of presidents from Washington to Jefferson to Lincoln to Kennedy to Reagan. In this country we may sometimes have to defend our rights vigorously, but we must also do so with civility if we would do justice to the responsibilities our rights entail.

— Carl Anderson is CEO of the Knights of Columbus and the author, most recently, of Beyond a House Divided.


Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review