Before we leave January behind, I’d like to look back on something that happened 75 years ago this month. On January 6, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union address to Congress, as war raged in Europe — a war the U.S. was trying to stay out of.
“In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression—everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way—everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want—which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants—everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear—which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor—anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.”
Eleven months later, almost to the day, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and the U.S. went to war, fighting the tyranny that Hitler, Mussolini and their allies represented. Our troops fought to defend Roosevelt’s freedoms. They were a part of American propaganda for the war.
I’m sure Roosevelt would have much rather not gone to war. His speech seems to be focusing much more on peaceful solutions. But he didn’t hesitate to defend them in war either.
I can’t help thinking how badly are doing in regard to these freedoms 75 years later. Not so much that the present administration seems reluctant to use our troops to defend them, but most of all that our governing elite no longer seem to believe in them.
Our government’s attempts to reduce freedom from want around the world is strictly tied to its determination to suppress other vital freedoms. The U.S. government and the U.N. that Roosevelt helped found, are trying to make contraception, sterilization, abortion and same-sex marriage universal through compulsion, dismissing those whose religious and other beliefs would forbid these things. This is true not only in the U.S., but through the activities of our government agencies and U.S. committees, these things are being imposed around the world. Tied to this is the alarming repression of freedom on speech, when anyone goes against the new interpretation of our freedoms.
We know how little the Obama administration is doing to protect religious freedom around the world. Obama is reluctant to speak of Christian persecution or to say that ISIS is committing genocide against Christians. This reluctance is almost inexplicable coming from someone who says he is a Christian.
This speech with its “freedom of worship” is interesting in light of the claims by many Christians that the administration’s replacement of the words “freedom of religion” with “freedom of worship” is an ominous sign of the change in attitude toward religious liberty by the Obama administration. The attitude has clearly changed, but let’s not put excessive weight on the words used. I suspect Obama uses the words “freedom of worship” because he’s an admirer of Roosevelt, as most Democrats are. The word “worship” can be defined in various ways, just as “religion” can. I think Obama has a very different definition of “worship” than the traditional one. I also think the Little Sisters of the Poor would say that their selfless care for sick and dying elderly people are as much a part of their “worship” as of their “religion.”
The Four Freedoms are very much in line with Catholic Social Teaching. Can we dust off these freedoms and recommit to a proper understanding of them? Can we finally make them “attainable in our own time and generation”?