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The Biden Administration Continues Its Assault on Religious Freedom

Updated: Jan 11

Late last week, as Washington, DC was returning to work from the Christmas and New Year's Holiday, the Biden Administration quietly announced its intention to remove a statue of Pennsylvania founder William Penn from "Welcome Park" in Philadephia (which is itself a part of the greater "Independence National Historical Park").

But this announced intention to remove the statue is more than a mere alteration of a public space; it's a concerning symbol of the administration's broader approach to history, religious freedom, and policy implementation. William Penn, a pivotal figure in early American history, embodies the spirit of religious freedom and tolerance. His legacy, especially in the very location of his former home, is crucial to our understanding of these values today.

William Penn: Champion of Religious Freedom

William Penn's life and contributions are cornerstones of America’s narrative on religious liberty. Born into an era of religious conflict, Penn, influenced by Quaker beliefs, faced imprisonment for his faith. His founding of Pennsylvania marked a significant departure from the era's religious persecutions, offering a sanctuary for religious minorities. This commitment to religious freedom and tolerance influenced the formation of the First Amendment, a testament to Penn's enduring impact on American ideals.

The Significance of Welcome Park and Penn's Charter of Privileges

Welcome Park is not just another site with a statue. It's the location of the home Penn used when he would live in Philadelphia, and the site where he drafted his "Charter of Privileges". This charter served as the colony's constitution for over 75 years and was a pioneering piece of legislation that laid the groundwork for a democratic government within the colony.

Its most notable feature was the provision for religious freedom and tolerance, which allowed all residents, regardless of their faith, to freely practice their religion without fear of persecution. This was a groundbreaking concept at the time, given the religious conflicts and intolerance prevalent in Europe. Additionally, the Charter granted significant political rights to the colonists, including the ability to elect representatives to a legislative assembly. This assembly had the power to propose and enact laws, representing an early form of self-governance in the American colonies. Penn's Charter of Privileges stands as a historic milestone, reflecting his visionary ideals for a society based on religious tolerance, democratic principles, and the protection of individual rights.

Because of this location's significance to both the history of Pennsylvania and the United States more generally, Welcome Park is a unique and irreplaceable historical context for Penn's life and work.

Arguments stating the presence of other Penn statues in Philadelphia miss the point; it's about preserving the direct connection to where he lived and contributed to the founding principles of religious tolerance in America. Moreover, an argument in the converse can be made regarding converting this site into one dedicated to "expanded interpretation of Native American history". There are a number of such monuments in Pennsylvania (and in Philadelphia) - and at the very least, one shouldn't sacrifice a monument to religious freedom and tolerance in the name of substituting a narrow, extremist political agenda.

The "Whole of Government" Approach to Policy

The current administration's use of a broad swatch of administrative agencies to further ideological goals raises critical concerns. The decision to remove Penn's statue under the guise of creating a more "inclusive" space can be seen as part of a wider strategy to re-shape the political landscape when it comes to religious freedom. From challenging the conscience rights of medical providers in healthcare by the Department of Heath and Human Services to the attempt by the Department of Education to rescind protections for faith-based student organizations on campuses in the past year, there has been growing concern about the Biden Administration's policies towards religious freedom. Now we have the Biden Administration attempting to use the National Park Service to do these same thing.

Not only do these actions raise questions about the commitment to the liberties Penn so fiercely advocated, this "whole of government" approach, especially when it seems to undermine historical figures who championed religious freedom, is alarming.

Call to Action: Your Voice Matters

Literally, as this post was being drafted, the National Park Service announced that because of initial public concerns (some of which were raised by folks at the CPAC Foundation's Center for Regulatory Freedom), they are, for the time being, withdrawing the proposal and will be reviewing it. But you can be certain that they will still try to initiate some kind of action to erase the history of America's commitment to religious freedom. We will keep you apprised and ask for your input then.

In conclusion, removing William Penn’s statue from Welcome Park is a matter that transcends mere aesthetic changes. It's about preserving the embodiment of religious freedom and tolerance in American history. As we grapple with various interpretations of our past, let's not lose sight of the figures who laid the foundations for our present liberties. Let's come together to ensure that the legacy of William Penn continues to be recognized and appreciated for generations to come.

Join the Discussion

We welcome your opinions on this matter. Share your thoughts in the comments below and join us in this important dialogue to safeguard our historical heritage and the values it upholds.


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