Past Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson received the Defender of Religious Freedom Award from the Religious Freedom Institute during the organization’s annual dinner in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13.
The award honors an individual who defends religious freedom for everyone, everywhere, from within his or her religious tradition. Thomas F. Farr, president of RFI, praised Anderson as a model for “faithful people who seek to practice their religion freely, with love and integrity, in modern society.” Under Anderson’s leadership as supreme knight from 2001 to 2021, “the Knights of Columbus has become one of America’s largest and most effective religious organizations,” said Farr, who is a member of Potomac Council 433 in Washington. “It has lived its constitutional right of free exercise by molding its members in virtue, by caring for the poor, the sick, and the dying of all faiths and of none, and in conveying the values of Catholicism to the larger culture.”
Upon receiving the award, the past supreme knight thanked RFI for its leadership in the cause of religious liberty. He also thanked members of the Knights of Columbus for their service and dedication to defending the constitutional right to religious freedom against increasing pressure to minimize religious influence in society.
“The threat is this: One side of today’s cultural debate is increasingly influenced by a way of thinking that sees not just a very limited role for religious liberty, but ultimately sees no room for the free exercise of religion,” Anderson said.
Whereas the First Amendment was grounded in a culture of belief in an objective, transcendent reality, he said a new culture of anti-belief aims to replace religion with a false ethics and traces its roots to thinkers like Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. This culture, the past supreme knight added, has taken a strong hold in America’s educational institutions.
“It is wishful thinking to assume it is not influencing the thinking of future generations of lawyers, judges and policy makers who are now studying at those institutions, and how they will someday regard religion, its value and its place within society,” Anderson said. “This is changing the ground rules of the culture war in America, and in the future, it will do so in more explicit ways.”
In order to preserve and rebuild religious freedom and a culture of belief, the past supreme knight said, people of faith must publicly challenge the philosophical assumptions of the cultural conflict; continue to be vigilant and engaged in the courts, legislatures, media, schools and businesses; and exercise religious beliefs in demonstrable ways.
“Our ultimate — and I believe decisive — defense of religious liberty is to live our religious faith so that others can see its value, and to demonstrate by our lives the reality of the transcendent and how that reality lifts up the world around us and makes it a better place,” he said.
Past Supreme Knight Anderson has been an advocate for religious freedom and civic responsibility throughout his professional career, especially during his tenure as supreme knight. Under his leadership, the Knights of Columbus defended the phrase “under God” in the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance when legal challenges threatened to remove it; supported the Little Sisters of Poor in their opposition to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act; launched the “Civility in America” campaign promoting civil discourse; participated in Novenas for National Unity; and launched the Christian Refugee Relief Fund for the defense of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
A collection of the past supreme knight’s speeches, essays and articles in defense of religious freedom, These Liberties We Hold Sacred: Essays on Faith and Citizenship in the 21st Century, was published in January 2021.
Learn more about Carl Anderson’s 20 years of leadership as the 13th supreme knight in the February 2021 issue of Columbia.