Yesterday marked the beginning of a new day in Colorado. Governor Jared Polis shared remarks with a standing-room only crowd after signing a proclamation declaring April 12 Colorado Religious Freedom Day. Heralding in the news with prayer and speech were religious leaders representing Jewish, Catholic, Sikh, and Christian faiths. Elder Thomas T. Priday of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conducted. An interfaith choir directed by Kent Jones filled the air and hearts of participants with songs of patriotism and gratitude. Local Muslim leaders, who supported the efforts of the day were unable to attend because of their Friday Congregational Prayer, look forward to joining next year.
Rabbi Black of Temple Emanuel opened the event with a prayer soliciting unity. Elder Priday read the proclamation declaring Colorado Religious Freedom Day. Pastor Del Phillips, of the The House Worship Center, and Mayor Hancock’s Faith council, followed with opening remarks. “We not only advertise religious freedom, we practice it. The practice of religious freedom is personified by the presence of so many people here…. We must have the freedom for many types of faith to coexist,” he said. Pastor Phillips further reminded all of the crucial need for a unified front for tolerance. “If men and women of faith don’t know how to demonstrate tolerance, we can’t expect those not of faith to find faith, to respect faith, and to respect houses of worship.” He closed with the reminder for all to “remember when you enter your private space of worship, you are not the only one praising God and praying for Colorado.”
Following Pastor Phillips was Dilpreet Jammu of the Colorado Sikhs. He focused on the equality of mankind, the attributes we share, and the duty to accompany our prayers with action. “We share far more than we differ. All humans are equal. Our actions matter more than words and belief. What matters is you are a human being and you are hungry. If you are suffering, it is my duty to help you.” He reminded faith leaders of their opportunity to promote civility and mutual respect. Jammu also taught about the power of prayer to provide dignity. He said, “Prayer has the greatest power when it is made manifest. You cannot pray away hunger or pray for compassion without action.” He called all to “move beyond words to actions,” and invited those in attendance to Lunger, a meal they will be sharing with all in need, regardless of faith belief.
Deacon Geoff Bennett of Catholic Charities spoke next. Highlighting the power of unity in action, he invited all to do as is said at the end of each service and “Go live this faith outside of our walls.” Without watering it down, he said, we should “practice proudly and recognize that our faith is what brought us together and makes us who we are.” He called for us to see that it is all about relationships and working together. Highlighting the joint efforts of Catholic Charities and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deacon Bennett shared the good works that have been accomplished by working together, to include furnishing an apartment building built in Broomfield for the homeless, and feeding those in need. Deacon Bennett invited everyone to “celebrate each other and work together so our faith becomes contagious.”
Governor Polis’ remarks, noted the day of religious freedom that would heretofore stand in Colorado. He told those gathered “to reflect on and never take for granted what we have.” He said, “We have a welcoming environment for all faiths, whether they have it or not. Our diversity is what gives us strength. We are all better off because of our diversity before the almighty.”
Steve Collis, chair of Holland & Hart’s nationwide religious institutions and First Amendment practice group, gave the final remarks. He taught that a lack of religious freedom is what has led to persecution in the past. He said that religious liberty is more controversial today, and we should treat it with reverence. “We all have religious views,” whether or not we identify with a specific religion. Answers to the questions “Is there a God? “Why am I here?” or “What happens after I die?” are all religious in nature, even if the answer is “I don’t know.” Using an example from the early days of the United States, Collis shared the story of the Quakers. Given their bedrock belief against conflict, they sought exemption from the War of Independence. Instead of forcing them to their civic duties, George Washington assured them that the “conscientious scruples of their members must be respected.” They were able to contribute to the effort without conflict. In like manner, today we need to show civility and respect for others’ beliefs. In direct tones, Collis reminded listeners that “if we lose religious liberty, everyone loses, including those who think they have won.”
Following Collis, the interfaith choir sang “America the Beautiful.” Kent Jones directed, and two soloists were featured, including a veteran Navy admiral who sang the fourth verse. The crowd of attendees were then invited to stand together and sing, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The refrains of our National Anthem echoed in the halls of the state house, as children, leaders, and legislators alike sang together.
Dr. Don Sweeting, President of Colorado Christian University, gave the benediction. In solicitous tones of reverence and gratitude, he thanked God for the ability to be together, called on all for action, and prayed religious civility going forward.
All in all, the event was a smashing success and a wonderful sign of things to come. Next year’s Religious Freedom Day event will be Monday, April 13, 2020. For further information, see ColoradoReligiousFreedomDay.org