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Heroes rare in war on religious freedom

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Lopez

They call it a war -- mainly, to dismiss it. As in: There go the Democrats again, fanning the flames of the culture wars, dividing Americans to win an election. But it's actually something very different that's going on.

Under the guise of tolerance and magnanimity, President Obama has been embracing a certain kind of radicalism that undermines the very institutions we've come to rely upon.

But where there are wars, there are prophets. There are brave ones who see threats on the horizon, lay groundwork, who make it possible for others to fight, who act as models by standing up for their beliefs in practical yet heartfelt ways. When it comes to the battle for religious liberty, Kevin Hasson is a true leader of men. Seamus, as almost everyone knows him, left a lucrative legal job to found the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in 1994.

Anyone who has been going to Becket's annual dinner knows something has dramatically changed. Every year, attendees hear about kids like Zachary Hood, who was a first-grader in a Medford, N.J., public school who wanted to read a story about Jacob and Esau from "The Beginner's Bible." God never came up in the book, but the school's administration determined it was verboten in the classroom because it "might influence others students" and was "the equivalent of praying."

Hasson's proudest moment might be Becket's representation of a Lutheran church school in a recent case that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Hosanna-Tabor simply wanted the right to hire and fire its own ministers without government intervention. The court decided unanimously in the school's favor, winning the votes of justices appointed by a president who seems bent at chipping away the remnants of religious freedom.

Having stepped down as president of Becket on account of Parkinson's just prior to the landmark case, Hasson reflects: "I'm proud to say that happened without me. It's a lot like watching my kids play soccer."

When it's not about us -- when it's about a greater good and the highest of callings, we can truly make an impact, and build a legacy of selfless leadership that inspires something similar in others.

Giving thanks for Seamus, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York called religious liberty "our first and most precious freedom," noting, "without it, all others are in jeopardy." Hasson has made an investment in it with his life, reminding us that there are causes worthy of such devoted sacrifice.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia, a past Becket honoree, recently told me: "Life is short. We'll be forgotten by everyone but God. Our home is heaven, and the politics of this world won't matter there. Charity, justice, courage, mercy -- these are the virtues, or their absence, that will shape our eternity. These are the things that really matter."

That may explain why Seamus and his wife, Mary, always look so happy -- and still manage to take the time to offer that wee bit of wisdom that can change a life now and again.

As Seamus put it: "I've had the great privilege of investing my life in religious freedom." For "if anyone in America doesn't have religious liberty, no one in America has religious liberty." You don't have to be a believer to believe that. When our first freedom is gone, atheists have as much to worry about as the evangelical.

Seamus' is a legacy to emulate -- it reminds us that there are men and women alive today who those who would curtail religious freedoms are not going to sideline -- in or out of court.

Email Kathryn Lopez at klopeznationalreview.com.