President Donald Trump issued a proclamation Monday commemorating the 850th anniversary of St. Thomas Becket’s martyrdom and used his example to call for an end to religious persecution worldwide.
“Today is the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Saint Thomas Becket on December 29, 1170. Thomas Becket was a statesman, a scholar, a chancellor, a priest, an archbishop, and a lion of religious liberty,” Trump’s proclamation began.
“Before the Magna Carta was drafted, before the right to free exercise of religion was enshrined as America’s first freedom in our glorious Constitution, Thomas gave his life so that, as he said, ‘the Church will attain liberty and peace,” he continued.
The White House sends out a proclamation for the 850th anniversary of St. Thomas Becket’s martyrdom.
He was the Archbishop of Canterbury who was murdered in his cathedral after his quarrels with King Henry II. Saint Thomas Becket’s feast day is Dec. 29. pic.twitter.com/YjnBrLjYgi
— Catherine Hadro (@CatSzeltner) December 29, 2020
Trump went on to briefly sketch out Becket’s biography: an English archbishop who was murdered by four knights of King Henry II in Canterbury Cathedral on Dec. 29, 1170, after famously resisting the monarch’s attempts to curb the power of the church with the Constitutions of Clarendon.
When Becket refused to agree to the king’s legislation, the proclamation explained, “the furious King Henry II threatened to hold him in contempt of royal authority and questioned why this ‘poor and humble’ priest would dare defy him, Archbishop Becket responded ‘God is the supreme ruler, above Kings’ and ‘we ought to obey God rather than men.'”
Tracing Becket’s legacy through the Magna Carta and to the religious liberty enshrined in American law, the proclamation continued:
Because Thomas would not assent to rendering the church subservient to the state, he was forced to forfeit all his property and flee his own country. Years later, after the intervention of the Pope, Becket was allowed to return — and continued to resist the King’s oppressive interferences into the life of the church. Finally, the King had enough of Thomas Becket’s stalwart defense of religious faith and reportedly exclaimed in consternation: “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”
The King’s knights responded and rode to Canterbury Cathedral to deliver Thomas Becket an ultimatum: give in to the King’s demands or die. Thomas’s reply echoes around the world and across the ages. His last words on this earth were these: “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.” Dressed in holy robes, Thomas was cut down where he stood inside the walls of his own church.
Thomas Becket’s martyrdom changed the course of history. It eventually brought about numerous constitutional limitations on the power of the state over the Church across the West. In England, Becket’s murder led to the Magna Carta’s declaration 45 years later that: “[T]he English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.”
When the Archbishop refused to allow the King to interfere in the affairs of the Church, Thomas Becket stood at the intersection of church and state. That stand, after centuries of state-sponsored religious oppression and religious wars throughout Europe, eventually led to the establishment of religious liberty in the New World. It is because of great men like Thomas Becket that the first American President George Washington could proclaim more than 600 years later that, in the United States, “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship” and that “it is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”
Trump went on to note, “On this day, we celebrate and revere Thomas Becket’s courageous stand for religious liberty and we reaffirm our call to end religious persecution worldwide,” and added that “the crimes against people of faith must stop, prisoners of conscience must be released, laws restricting freedom of religion and belief must be repealed, and the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed must be protected.”
“As long as America stands, we will always defend religious liberty,” Trump concluded, noting, “A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure — because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God.”
Read Trump’s entire proclamation here.
Citing recent lockdown orders in some states that he believes unfairly target churches, evangelist Franklin Graham recently told The Daily Wire that he believes persecution is on the horizon for American Christians:
Graham condemned the lingering lockdowns of churches in states like California as illegal and unconstitutional. “The Constitution guarantees us the right to worship without interference from the government,” he said. “For a governor just to arbitrarily say that Lowe’s, Home Depot can be open, or Walmart can be open on Sunday, but churches have to be closed, and they can’t have more than 100 people or 50 people or whatever, it just shows you that they are targeting churches.”