President Donald Trump called for an end to religious persecution this week in an official proclamation Monday, coinciding with the 850th anniversary of the death of English archbishop Thomas Becket.
The proclamation calls Becket, who was martyred on December 29, 1170, a "lion of religious liberty" and notes that even before the Magna was drafted and the right to free exercise of religion was enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, he gave his life in order that "the Church will attain liberty and peace."
"When the crown attempted to encroach upon the affairs of the house of God through the Constitutions of Clarendon, Thomas refused to sign the offending document. When 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,'" the proclamation continues.
The Constitutions of Clarendon were comprised of 16 articles defining church-state relations in England, which were designed to restrict certain church privileges and restrain the power of its ecclesiastical courts.
As a result of his refusal to sign on, Becket was ultimately forced to forfeit his property and flee the country. When he was eventually allowed to return due to papal intervention, he persisted in his resistance to the king's actions. The king's knights killed Becket after they gave him an ultimatum to assent to the king's demands.
Becket's last words were: “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.”
Religious liberty advocates today regard Becket as a hero for their cause in light of how his actions laid the foundation for government protection of freedom of religion.
"Today we celebrate the anniversary of the martyrdom (or for many, the feast day) of St. Thomas á Becket, the namesake for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and an inspiration for our mission to defend religious freedom for all as a human right free from government intrusion," the legal group named after Becket tweeted Tuesday.
"Because he 'resolutely refused to render to Caesar that which is God's', Thomas á Becket has become a symbol for religious freedom. It is why our founder, Kevin 'Seamus' Hasson, named our non-profit legal practice the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty."
The White House proclamation states that in honor of Becket's memory, "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."
"The tyranny and murder that shocked the conscience of the Middle Ages must never be allowed to happen again. As long as America stands, we will always defend religious liberty.
"A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure — because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God."