As Little Sisters of the Poor we don’t often find ourselves frequenting luxury hotels or attending black tie social events, but that is exactly what we did last Thursday, May 15. A group of ten Little Sisters representing the Brooklyn and Baltimore provinces attended the Becket Fund’s 19th annual Canterbury Medal Dinner at the famous Pierre Hotel in Manhattan. We were special guests of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing us in our lawsuit against the Federal Government dealing with the HHS Contraceptive Mandate.
As sumptuous as the food and ambiance were, what really captivated us throughout the evening was the positive energy generated by so many truly outstanding, edifying people who have devoted their resources and energies — if not their entire lives — to the defense of religious liberty for all people of all faiths, beginning with the Becket Fund attorneys and staff. A New York journalist covering the event wrote, “Perhaps only the Becket Fund could pull off such an event, a glittering evening where men and women of strong (and conflicting) beliefs find common ground without watering down their principles.”
We had been invited to the Gala as the recipients of “special client recognition” and were treated like celebrities by the many guests we had the privilege of encountering. Countless people greeted us and thanked us for our courage in confronting the Federal Government over the HHS Mandate. These accolades were all the more striking as we reflected on the inspiring activities of the other guests, who represented an array of faiths and cultures, but who all support and/or work for religious liberty. It was very humbling to be treated this way — one person even called us rock stars! — since we had never dreamt that our efforts to defend the Gospel of Life and to ensure the continuation of our mission to the elderly poor in the face of the obstacles imposed by the HHS Mandate would gain us such notoriety. We had never really thought of our decision to bring a lawsuit against the government as an act of courage, but rather as a necessity in the face of the burdensome fines we could be required to pay if we do not win an exemption from the Mandate. As many of you know, our case is still pending.
The recipient of the Canterbury Medal this year was Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks, emeritus chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, the spiritual leader of Great Britain’s Jewish community. Rabbi Sacks began his keynote address with the following analogy: “Every faith is a candle we light in the public domain. A little light drives away much darkness and no one else’s candle diminishes my own. But if we all light our candles together we can turn a dark world into one full of light. That is why working for religious liberty is so fundamental.”
Rabbi Sacks, who is British, went on to give a rousing challenge to us as Americans to stand up for religious liberty, since, he said, “America’s great achievement has been to turn religion into a force for freedom.” The tree of liberty in America, he said, “has religious roots,” and it cannot survive without them. America needs to stand tall, he concluded, and assert its unique history so that moral relativism and individualism will not prevail in our modern world. “A free God seeks the free worship of free human beings,” Rabbi Sacks concluded. “God has faith in us — this is what Freedom tells us.”
We departed the Canterbury Medal Dinner more aware of all that unites us to so many other people of faith, and of all those who support us, and inspired to continue in our own struggle for religious liberty in the pursuit of our mission of hospitality to needy elderly persons.