Interfaith Day of Reflection
STOP (Stop Theocracy
in Oklahoma Policy)
"There is a word sweeter than Mother, Home, or Heaven; that word is Liberty."
These timeless words are carved upon the tombstone of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a
pivotal but oft forgotten 19th century American woman who spent her life in the
pursuit of liberty and justice, for the consummation of the very things which
our Constitution was initially written to ensure for all citizens of this
Now, think about it -- Gage was born into (and died in) a world in which women
were denied the vote. They could not own property on their own in many states,
and were deemed unfit to serve in most public offices. Husbands in many states
could legally beat their wives, and higher education was all but completely
denied to the vast majority of American women.
Now, in this environment of hostility and outright prejudice, Gage labored to
gain suffrage for women. She championed the cause of Church/State separation in
the 1880's, at a time when theocrats not unlike those we see today worked to
spread the spurious, majoritarian lie that American democracy was somehow
subordinate to the whims of this sect or that. Gage fought slavery for the
great evil that it was, and endeavored to abolish the horrific (and then
widespread) practice of child labor.
Now, you may be asking yourself, "Why is he talking about a 19th century
suffragette/reformer? Aren't we here to celebrate freedom of conscience and a
governmental system that is supposed to be free of sectarian preferences?"
I bring up Gage's memory to drive home one message today -- PERSEVERANCE. So
often, it's remarkably simple to get distracted, to lose sight of what we are
Especially in the current socio-political environment, we who stand up for
diversity and strict separation can (and often do) get remarkably discouraged.
We need events such as today's gathering to remind us that we are not alone, to
assure us that the dark forces which would gladly restrict liberty and destroy
diversity must struggle against not only us, but millions upon millions more
like us, good Americans who refuse to allow 228 years of success to be spoiled
by sectarianism and divisiveness and historical revisionism.
Gage provides a perfect example of perseverance in the most difficult of times.
Her activism shines as a beacon to those of us who would become crestfallen, and
gives hope to those of us who would grow cynical and indifferent to the cause of
Here was a woman who endured the government intercepting her mail. Here was a
woman who gladly went to prison after daring to "buck the system" put in place
by men in power. (Gage reminded us all that this nation ruled by law was
originally founded upon the disobedience to unjust laws. Let us never forget
that.) Here was a woman who harbored runaway slaves at great personal cost and
risk. Here was a woman willing to endure the slings and arrows of her most
vicious detractors. Here was a woman who silenced her foes not with threats nor
with censorship nor with blind wrath, but with careful, clear, and irrefutable
arguments, arguments based (as are our arguments) solely upon reason and solid,
We can take inspiration from Gage as we struggle to rebuild the wall of
separation between Church and State in this country. We can learn from her
actions as we labor to remind ourselves and the world that this is a country of
diversity -- E Pluribus Unum -- from many, ONE. We can see in Gage's life
lessons on how to take hope even when all seems hopeless. We can (and must)
gird our loins and work for liberty for the rest of our lives, even as Gage did.
Yes, liberty is the sweetest word that any of us will ever hear. Whether
fundamentalist or progressive, theist or non-theist, Buddhist or Muslim, Hindu
or Christian, Jewish or Gentile, we all owe it to the Republic to take up
the cause of liberty and to persevere as we fight the good fight. Gage would
expect no less of us.