Manhattan Declaration a Year Later: Half a Million Support Pro-Life Values

Bioethics   |   Amanda Pawloski   |   Oct 29, 2010   |   6:56PM   |   New York, NY

The authors penned their declaration a year ago not knowing it would spur an international movement.
Now, nearly a half million backers have signed the Manhattan Declaration, a “call of Christian conscience” originally spurred by concern that U.S. leaders had lost sight of the meaning of religious freedom. In the months since, the declaration has not only reaffirmed Christian values, but has spawned similar movements on two other continents and an unprecedented display of ecumenical unity.
It was President Obama’s description of religious freedom as a “right to worship” privately as opposed to freedom of religion that particularly worried the authors, says Robert George, one of three men who formed the declaration’s drafting committee. The three agreed that religious freedom should include a robust right to witness to their Christian faith in public, and set about drafting a declaration that reaffirms the Christian understanding of life, religious liberty, and marriage.
George, a professor at Princeton University told the Friday Fax that since the Manhattan Declaration was released a year ago, it has been especially heartwarming that the declaration gave rise to similar affirmations drafted at Westminster in the United Kingdom, Canberra in Australia and Rhode Island in the United States.
Released over the spring and summer of 2010, those declarations seem to be finding supporters at a rapid rate. They affirm the same values as the Manhattan Declaration while using the language and legal context of their own communities.
The fact that those communities spontaneously gave rise to their own declarations surprised him, George says.  Then again, he was aware of conditions in those countries that called for action. He recounted hearing of a friend banned by the U.K. government from offering a foster home to children in the system because his friend was Christian. The state argued that a Christian home would not meet the required anti-discrimination environment for the foster care system.
But George explained that the Manhattan Declaration was motivated by more than just influencing policy. It also highlights that the Christian community has failed to live up to its own standards. “Its an apology,” George said.
Leading Evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox leaders, meanwhile, have embraced the Manhattan Declaration in an impressive display of ecumenical unity. George was particularly impressed by the example of laymen working hand in hand with ecclesial authorities.
Critics of the Manhattan Declaration express skepticism that religion can be a base for promoting pro-life and pro-family values.  One of the three offspring declarations, in fact, avoids promoting Christianity outright.  The Rhode Island Declaration addresses “all citizens, believers and non-believers alike.”
Yet church leaders in Texas and California have used the Manhattan Declaration as an opportunity for catechetical instruction.  An Oakland program called the “Road to Manhattan” teaches people who want to know more about the values promoted in the declaration.
Ultimately, George hopes that the Manhattan Declaration will activate the political voice of the Christian public. “Its important that we take advantage of resources within religion,” he says.
Charles Colson, an Evangelical leader, and Timothy George, a theology professor, co-authored the declaration with Robert George. Note: Amanda Pawloski writes for the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. This article originally appeared in the pro-life group’s Friday Fax publication and is used with permission.