A religious freedom summit on Oct. 14 united business and cultural leaders from the Chicago area to discuss the importance of religious freedom and encourage action to defend it.
Speaking to EWTN News two days before the Reclaiming Religious Liberty Leadership Summit, organizer Thomas Yep said that he was hoping to inspire participants "to realize their roots, to realize that religious liberty is under attack and what they can possibly do about it."
He said that the gathering, which took place at Halas Hall in the Chicago area, was expected to draw 150 attendees representing a cross section of city leaders, such as influential business leaders, owners of sports teams and other individuals with "spheres of influence."
The summit featured a dozen speakers discussing the importance of religious freedom. Some of the speakers, including U.S. Air Force Captain Guy D. Gruters, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, were able to testify about what happens when religious liberty is not respected.
Others speakers offered comments from the perspectives of a lawyer, lawmaker, clergyman, medical group owner and media personality.
U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Chicago Bears senior director of special projects Patrick McCaskey were two of the featured speakers at the event, along with attorney and editor Asma Uddin, radio host Dan Proft and Jewish rabbi Philip Lefkowitz.
The gathering was inter-religious and apolitical. Rather than endorsing candidates, summit speakers focused on the principles underlying religious freedom.
In the fight to "reclaim religious liberty," it is important to "start by helping people to understand what that right is," Yep said.
"You can't just say something is a right," he explained. Rather, there is a need to understand the foundation of the right in order for people to realize its fundamental value.
The summit was intended to "take the founding fathers and make them relevant," engaging cultural leaders and reminding them of why they should care about religious liberty today, he said.
By reaching out to high level business executives and other influential leaders, Yep is hoping to have a national impact.
While attacks on religious liberty are not new, they have become more prominent, particularly in light of the national health care law, he explained.
Yep is currently one of more than 100 plaintiffs suing the federal government over a health insurance mandate issued under the health care law, which requires employers to offer coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs despite their religious or moral objections.
He hopes Chicago leaders are coming away from the summit educated and inspired to stand up for religious freedom.
Summit participants were asked to consider attending religious liberty events and to pray according to their own faith for the restoration of religious liberty. They were also encouraged to “engage people” through dialogue on the subject.
Participants also got a change to sign the Declaration of Chicago Values, a “clear but not confrontational” statement that included an outline of the meaning and importance of religious liberty.
“Religion is a very powerful thing,” said Yep, explaining that all major religions have basic moral principles that shape people’s behavior, and “our founding fathers understood that.”
"Religion teaches people how to be virtuous," he said. "And virtuous people make the best private and public citizens."
Yep believes that there is a need to educate people on the importance of religious freedom and to clear up misunderstandings about the threats surrounding it.
"Universal health care is a great thing," he explained, but not at the expense of religious freedom of expression.
Yep also stressed that religious liberty is more than a Catholic concern.
He noted that the summit included inter-religious speakers, including those of Jewish, Muslim and Evangelical backgrounds.
"This is not just a one-faith issue," Yep said, noting that a respect for conscience rights does not require religion at all, but can be based upon natural law.
"We want to present a universal approach," he said. "This is a universal issue, something we should all care about."