Editor’s Note: This is a speech given by Integrated Catholic Life™ contributing writer Theresa Thomas on October 27th, 2012 at Religious Freedom Rally in South Bend, Indiana.

You are here today because you care about our country, our children, our future. You gave up something in your normal everyday routine to be here- maybe it was a football game on the sofa, or last bit of yard work to finish before winter sets in. Maybe it was a relaxed lunch with the family or the opportunity to get some work done at home.  At any rate you left the comfort of your house to be with us here. THANK YOU. Your sustained commitment to religious liberty and to America’s future WILL make a difference.

I am not a celebrity.

I’m not a politician.

I don’t have a law degree from Harvard… or Yale… or Notre Dame.

In fact, I have no law degree at all.

I am just an ordinary woman. A mother. A wife. And, like you, an American citizen.

And like most ordinary American citizens I have a history… and a story.

My great grandfather, Casmir Pasikowski, came to this great country in the early 1900s from Poland. He came as a teenager. Alone. He was a cabinetmaker by trade and came to America to earn a living.  In 1939 World War II broke out in Europe, and Casmir feared for the family he left behind, who lived in a small city near the German border. You see, the Nazis were stomping through Poland and gathering up not just Jews but, Catholics as well.

In America, Casimir saved every penny he earned working as a craftsman. His plan was to help bring the rest of the family over for opportunity and a new life.  When he had finally saved up enough money to send first for his little sister Sophia, however, he found out he was too late.

She had already been sent to Auschwitz concentration camp… and gassed to death

What was her crime?


She was a young Polish girl with bright eyes and a hopeful future, who liked to cook and laugh and talk with friends. And she was a faithful Catholic Christian. But her nationality was ‘wrong’ in the eyes of the German Third Reich and ‘crime’ was her religious beliefs.

The real life story of Casmir Pasikowski and his sister Sophia is a story of extreme religious persecution.  Thankfully, Catholics and other people of faith have not been rounded up physically for persecution in America, but they have been targeted for a very real persecution of their faith nonetheless.

The current Administration and its agencies have refused to properly respect and accommodate the faith and convictions of millions of Americans. They are forcing Catholics and others to go against their consciences and pay for contraceptive devices and abortifacient drugs in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate.

The HHS Mandate violates the consciences of millions of Americans, and their collective complaint is being ignored. The HHS mandate, according to the governmental website, is being implemented step by step this very moment as we stand here together, and is targeted to be fully in place, if not overturned, by 2014, just a year and a half away.

Government officials and agencies do not care that Catholics and others object to being forced to pay for contraceptives and abortifacient drugs. They do not care that this HHS Mandate violates consciences and goes against a 2,000-year tradition of Faith.  This is not just a Catholic issue. This is a general religious and moral issue.

Can and should any government force its citizenry to violate consciences and give up the fundamental rights to practice their religion?

Like many immigrants, my great grandfather Casmir came to America to make a living and seek a fortune because America has always been the land of the free and a place of abounding opportunity.

And like many immigrants who come here first for opportunity, Casmir quickly saw and valued the freedoms that America has always granted to her inhabitants – the freedoms of speech, of the press and to practice one’s religion without interference.  He knew, that from its inception, America was a place where immigrants from all nations could have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Pursuing happiness for his family included faithfully practicing his treasured religion.

The National World War II museum documents the words of Pastor Martin Niemoller in 1945: (perhaps you’ve heard a version of it – this is the original)

“In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

    (Pastor Martin Niemöller, 1945)

Those who do not stand up when their neighbors’ rights are being trampled on will soon find that their own are threatened.

Liberal politicians and those whom they prop up say, “Stay out of our bedrooms.” Yet, these same people want us to pay for what they choose to do in theirs.  Is that fair?

Liberal policymakers say we must respect ALL religions and even no religion at all, yet they mock the Catholic Church by offering weak accommodations to the HHS Mandate that fool no one.  Is that just?

Government tramples on the rights of the citizenry by ignoring their legitimate complaints. Is that American?

History tells us that before the United States was even a country, first the pilgrims and then other immigrants on subsequent trips – many other brave men and women – came to America different reasons; adventure, opportunity and in many or even most cases, freedom from religious persecution.

Sometimes I think of the journey of those people, searching for a better life for themselves and their children.

Consider, say, just over a hundred human beings huddled in an uncomfortable ship, often seasick, eating raw food, for sixty-six days. Waves lapped on the boat. People got sick. Children, being children, whined. And cried.

A typical trip like this across the ocean took almost two months in those years.  Can you imagine that journey?  As a woman I think of the mothers cradling their children, braving the oceanic storms, inclement weather and. I think of men strongly at the helm, protecting and providing for the passengers and their families, even while they were afraid. Certainly they were unsure. Why did they do this? What would compel these people to risk life and limb and travel across a vast ocean wrought with many dangers?

The answer is opportunity, adventure and religious freedom.

I told you about my great grandfather Casmir Paskiowski and why he came to America. We’ve considered the others who came here very early on.

What is YOUR family story?

Why did your ancestors come here to America?

Some of your ancestors may have come from Mexico just this generation. Others trace their lineage back two or three generations to Ireland, or Holland or like me, to Poland.  My husband’s roots are in Lebanon. Some of our ancestors have even been persecuted here. They especially know how important freedom is

The details of our past and our heritages may be different but the stories have a common theme

Our families want a better life for our children. Our families value freedom.

Is that what we are getting today from the HHS Mandate?

We seek a better life not just for us but for posterity – for our children and grandchildren.

You are here today because you understand – you care about religious freedom

If Catholics and others are forced to go against their religious beliefs today, Protestants could be targeted tomorrow. Jewish. Amish. Mennonite. Truthfully, there is no telling where this persecution will stop. Religious freedoms will be chipped away, little by little, and soon there could be no freedoms at all.

If the government can require us to pay for birth control today, what is to prevent it from mandating that we use it tomorrow? Already our tax codes are punitive for families. Will it ever be a government solution to suggest a limit on family size then work to enforce it? Where would the government intrusion stop? Could involuntary sterilization be down the road? If these current abuses of power are left unchecked, I suggest yes, these are all possible.

We must pay attention. Once this persecution starts it can easily extend.

Don’t listen to speeches by politicians that sparkle, but they contain dead messages. Seek and speak the Truth.

We must value religious freedom.

We must recognize that the HHS mandate is a dangerous intrusion into the lives of individual citizens and employers.

Friends, we must not be afraid. We must talk to our friends, our neighbors, the women in our mothers’ group, the bagger at the grocery store, our fellow teachers, union members, lawyers, architects, postal workers. No matter what our occupations are, no matter what country our ancestors emigrated from, we are in this together.

We must teach our children the authentic story of America’s history, our family’s own personal history, and the long-standing tradition of freedom for all.

We must talk and live sacrifice.

We must talk and live honor.

We must talk and live respect for one another.

We must talk and live our faith, not just our individual religious faiths but demonstrate that we have faith in each other.

We must vote our consciences. And when this election is over, whatever the outcome, we must continue to press on.

I pledge as I am standing here today that I will help fight for YOU to protect your right to practice your faith. And as I am standing here today, I beg you to help me protect mine.

Our country was founded on people like us. We ARE the people.

May God protect us in this endeavor. And may God bless America.

Theresa Thomas is the co-author Stories for the Homeschool Heart (Bezalel Books, 2010 & winner of About.com Best Catholic Book of 2010), family columnist at Today’s Catholic News and a contributing writer for the Integrated Catholic Life™.

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