As COVID-19 continues to ravage nations and take lives, religious leaders are calling for worldwide prayer. Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau urged Jews everywhere to join in a half-day fast on March 25 as “a petition looking to Divine Mercy,” hoping that “the good Lord will listen to our prayers and… save in His great mercy his people Israel and all the children of the world who need it.” Meanwhile, Pope Francis invited all Catholics and other Christians to join him in prayer on March 27 as he delivered his “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) blessing, normally given only at Christmas and Easter, in front of an empty St. Peter’s Square. “We were caught off-guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm,” the Pope declared, and “have realized that we are on the same boat,… all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other.” And President Russell M. Nelson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called upon members and “our many friends” to join in a worldwide fast on March 29 “to pray for relief from the physical, emotional and economic effects of this global pandemic…. Let us unite our faith to plead for physical, spiritual, and other healing throughout the entire world.”
This unprecedentedly vast and united exercise of conscience comes just as the world is about to mark the International Day of Conscience on April 5, commemorating the timeless truth enshrined in articles 1 and 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood…. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” So paramount is this right of conscience that it is one of the few rights that cannot, according to article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, be derogated even “in time of public emergency which threatens the life of the nation and the existence of which is officially proclaimed.” Indeed, it is the exercise of this very right whereby people everywhere are now calling upon the Creator for relief from this public emergency which threatens the life of nations.
Tragically, however, it is this same right of conscience that is in the crosshairs of the misleadingly labeled “rights” campaign of the LGBTQ movement, which seeks to vilify and shut down any opposing views, even—and especially—when they are sincere expressions of religious faith. The sober warning by Justice Samuel Alito in his dissenting opinion in the Obergefell decision (imposing gay “marriage” in America)—that it would be “exploited by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent”—is a wake-up call to defend the right of conscience. Infringement of that right is always dangerous, and never more so than in times of crisis such as the present. We at the International Organization for the Family join with all who exercise their right of conscience in praying for a speedy end to the COVID-19 pandemic, even as we continue to defend that sacred right of all humanity.