Approximately 3,000 people attended the Freedom Festival annual patriotic service, held at Utah Valley University on Sunday evening. Introduced by Provo Mayor John Curtis, Senator Orrin Hatch delivered a keynote speech on the current state of American freedom, the fight for religious liberty, and the reasons to celebrate independence day.
In his remarks, Hatch focused on the current state of our freedom, including the debate over religious liberty in America. He said, “I am deeply troubled by recent attacks on religious freedom, including attempts by some to frame religious protection laws as dangerous and even contemptuous. Religious liberty is a universal human right that undergirds the very existence of this nation.” He continued, “We cannot afford to be passive observers to these attacks, nor can we sit idly by as others defame and denigrate this most fundamental of freedoms. Strengthening religious liberty is in the best interest of all Americans. It is one of the many freedoms that distinguish us as a nation.”
Senator Hatch also outlined “the fruits of our freedom,” including peace, love and courage. Describing peace, Hatch told the story of Aden Batar, a refugee who fled his home in war-torn Somalia in search of peace for his family. After great trials and adversity, Aden was able to settle his family in Logan Utah. Hatch said, “Peace is foremost among the fruits of freedom. Without freedom, peace cannot exist. For those of us born into freedom, may we never take for granted the peace we now enjoy—the peace for which Aden sacrificed everything to achieve. May we also always remember the love that sustained Aden as he searched for peace and provided for his family.“
Describing love as a fruit of our freedom, Hatch told the story of Army Private First Class Ryan A. McGinnis, who gave his life for his fellow soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom. During a routine patrol in Baghdad, Ryan jumped on top of a grenade to protect four other soldiers. Ryan was killed instantly, but his sacrifice of love saved their lives.
Lastly, Hatch spoke of courage. He told the story of his brother Jesse, who enlisted in the Army Air Corps when World War II broke out. Jesse was a nose-gunner, who “sat in one of the most vulnerable positions on the airplane.” Hatch added, “his job was dangerous, but he was good at it. In fact, he was one of the few American GIs to ever shoot down a German jet from the nose gunner position.” Jesse was tragically killed in a mission over Austria, but Senator Hatch spoke of his courage as an example that has guided his life. He said, “Though the grief was unbearable, I will be forever grateful for my brother’s example of courage. Jess’s courage stemmed from his love of freedom. He loved his country more than he loved himself, which is why he had the fortitude to mount the nose gunner’s seat in more than 185 missions over Europe.”
Hatch concluded by saying, “This week, as we celebrate liberty and its many virtues, may we honor these heroes’ example by renewing our own commitment to freedom and equality—the foundations of American democracy.”
Hatch’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below:
Thank you, Mayor Curtis, for that kind introduction. Thank you all. It is both a pleasure and an honor to be with you tonight. I would like to thank the Freedom Festival Board and the organizers of this event for inviting me to be here and allowing me the opportunity to join with you in this special celebration of our freedom. I also wanted to thank each and every one of you sitting before me. You and I are gathered here this evening because we are bound together by a common feeling—that feeling is one of reverence, it is one of gratitude, it is one of pride: it is a love for the country we call home and the land we hold dear, the United States of America.
Tonight, we have commemorated that love of country through music and the spoken word. I wish to thank those who have helped us celebrate. I’m grateful for the members of the 23rd Army Band and their hymns of patriotism. Music expresses the feelings of the heart we can seldom fit into words; it is the language we speak when speech isn’t enough. [Looking to the band] Through your performance tonight, you helped all of us speak to our love of God and country.
Thank you for your beautiful music, but more importantly, thank you for your service to this country. If I could, I would take just a brief moment to recognize and extend my gratitude to all members of the armed services, including those veterans in the audience tonight: You represent the very best this nation has to offer. Your devotion to honor, selflessness, integrity, and courage, embodies the very pinnacle of American virtue. Thank you for your example, your commitment, and your sacrifice.
I would also like to thank others who have participated in tonight’s celebration, including the pop trio GENTRI. Gentlemen, your performance was spectacular. Thank you for using your talents to uplift and inspire. I think there are a lot of young women in this auditorium wondering if you’re married or single. Sorry ladies—I think all three of them are taken. And I hate to break your hearts, but I’m married too.
Lastly, I wanted to recognize Aerin Burns. What a bright, young talent! Aerin, you gave a tremendous speech tonight, and I wanted to congratulate you for winning the Youth Speech Contest. I’m talking to the organizers of this event because I think you should be next year’s keynote. If you ever run for office, you’ve got my vote. Consider that an official endorsement.
I am truly honored to be with all of you tonight. To look out on this crowd is a humbling sight. I see before me, the very best of Utah—I see young mothers and fathers, teachers and volunteers, civil servants and veterans. I see grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters, neighbors and friends. In you, I see multiple generations of Americans gathered and united in one purpose: to celebrate our independence and the freedoms we hold dear. Despite any difference in age, we are all the same in our love of country and our devotion to liberty. It is that love of freedom that brings us together tonight, and that love of freedom that binds us together as a nation.
This week, we celebrate that freedom. The Fourth of July has always been special to me, and I’ve celebrated quite a few in my day. Young children remind me of this often. A young boy once even approached me and asked, “Senator Hatch, what was it like to sign the Declaration of Independence?” I assume he meant this as a compliment. I know I’ve been in public service for a long time, but the signing of the Declaration still predates me by a couple years. Now, if you were to ask me what it was like to be at Lincoln’s Inauguration, I’d be more than happy to tell you.
Preserving the Preeminent Freedom: Religious Liberty
Of course, I’m only joking. All humor aside, it is a pleasure to be with all of you as we celebrate the birth of our nation. As Americans, the freedoms we enjoy are as ample as they are varied. The Bill of Rights enshrines our liberty in law, detailing the blessings and privileges that are the birthright of every American citizen, including the freedom of speech, the freedom of assembly, and most importantly, the freedom of religion. For the Founders, religious liberty was the preeminent freedom. They knew that to violate a man’s right to worship was to violate his conscience.
To avoid this abuse, they took special pains to ensure the protection of religious liberty by inserting the Free Exercise Clause as the very first amendment in our Bill of Rights. Under this clause, the government shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Just as our Founding Fathers were vigilant in protecting religious liberty, we should be equally vigilant today. I am deeply troubled by recent attacks on religious freedom, including attempts by some to frame religious protection laws as dangerous and even contemptuous. Religious liberty is a universal human right that undergirds the very existence of this nation. We cannot afford to be passive observers to these attacks, nor can we sit idly by as others defame and denigrate this most fundamental of freedoms.
Now is the time to redouble our efforts to protect and defend religious liberty. With last week’s Supreme Court decision to redefine the fundamental nature of marriage, I understand that many of you are concerned about the lasting effects this ruling and others like it might have on religious liberty. Even though the Supreme Court has spoken, know that I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that this decision does not infringe on our free exercise of religion. Strengthening religious liberty is in the best interest of all Americans. It is one of the many freedoms that distinguish us as a nation.
The Reason for Our Celebration
As citizens of this great country, we have much to be grateful for and much to celebrate. Tonight, I want to direct your thinking to the reason behind our Fourth of July celebration. Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July, and what makes our celebration so special? After all, the United States is just one of 195 countries in the world today. Just like ours, each one of these countries had a beginning—a seminal point in their history when they became culturally, politically, and geographically distinct from other nation-states. Many of these countries celebrate their own independence day and even have systems of government similar to ours. What, then, is so unique about the United States of America?
The answer is simple—our Independence Day marks not only the founding of a nation; it signals the birth of freedom for all mankind. This is no exaggeration. On July 4, 1776, 56 men signed their names on a document that would forever change the course of human history. Before the American Founding, men were subservient to the whims and fallibilities of monarchical rule. Never before had a government been founded on the idea that all men were created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. The Declaration of Independence changed everything—it asserted the universal equality of all mankind and articulated our natural, God-given rights, including the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It overturned the prevailing wisdom that men are made for governments, declaring instead, that governments are made for men. The Declaration further teaches that the sole purpose of government is to secure man’s liberty and happiness.
We all owe the signers of the Declaration a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid. Their singular courage was the impetus for our independence and the first step in what Alexis de Tocqueville would call “The Great American Experiment”—an experiment that, 239 years later, we are proving successful today.
It is this experiment that all modern democracies would replicate as they shed their hereditary monarchies and adopted new forms of representative government. The Declaration of Independence provided the early blueprint for that process. The bedrock for all modern democracy was laid on a thin piece of parchment only 30-by-25 inches in dimension.
In that sense, Americans should not celebrate this holiday alone; every friend of democracy should hold July 4th in special regard. After all, the principles behind the Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights made democracy possible—not only for our nation, but for all democracies that followed. Our Founding demonstrated that the consent of the governed is the only sure foundation for successful government. More importantly, it proved to the world that liberty and equality are more than abstract philosophical concepts; they are eternal truths grounded in reality and validated by the success of American government.
With the Founding, our forefathers not only built a new nation; they built a revolutionary form of government that proved to the world, once and for all, that freedom is possible. This is what makes our country exceptional. This is what distinguishes the Fourth of July in America from any other independence day celebration in the entire world.
On our Independence Day, we not only celebrate the birth of a nation; we celebrate the greatest of all the gifts of God—our freedom. Tonight, I wish to speak about freedom—not through trite clichés or rote definitions—but through stories of inspiration taken from the lives of exemplary Americans. These stories teach us that the love of freedom is a virtue which begets other virtues. It is to those other virtues—the fruits of freedom—that I will devote the remainder of my remarks.
The Fruits of Freedom
What are these fruits of freedom?
When we speak of freedom, we speak of peace. Aden Batar longed for that peace growing up in the war-torn nation of Somalia. Almost every day, Aden heard gunshots and screams outside his window. On his way to work, he would walk by dead bodies lying in the streets. Aden Batar knew this was no place to raise his family, so he set out in search of a country where his loved ones could be safe—a place of peace and refuge far away from the civil war that was tearing his country to pieces. He dreamed of a land of liberty where his two boys could grow healthy and strong; he dreamed of coming to America. Although Aden would eventually fulfill that dream, his journey was long and treacherous before he reached freedom’s shores.
With only the clothes on his back, Aden fled Somalia, traveling more than 700 miles to nearby Kenya. Before he left Mogadishu, he had stitched into the inner lining of his trousers $200—the sum total of his life savings. He had to keep this money hidden from the thieves and murderers that lined the roads to Kenya. To help his family escape, Aden would need every penny. On his journey, he was under constant threat of violence. Bandits stripped him of his watch and other personal items. He passed through hostile villages of rival tribesmen who stopped, searched, and questioned him at every opportunity. For three straight days, he rode in a trailer full of livestock en route to Kenya. Three and a half weeks after leaving Somalia—weak, starving, and stripped of all personal belongings—Aden arrived safely in Nairobi, where he was able to reunite with his family.
Longing for the freedom that had eluded him his whole life, Aden made plans to move from Kenya to the United States. Through Catholic Community Services, he was able to resettle his family in Logan, Utah. Here in Utah, Aden finally found freedom. Of all the blessings that come from living in America, Aden is most grateful for peace. Aden once said, “Peace is the most important thing you can have…Without peace you cannot do anything. I’ll give up everything I have for peace.”
Peace is foremost among the fruits of freedom. Without freedom, peace cannot exist. For those of us born into freedom, may we never take for granted the peace we now enjoy—the peace for which Aden sacrificed everything to achieve. May we also always remember the love that sustained Aden as he searched for peace and provided for his family.
Like peace, love is another fruit of freedom. “Greater love hath no man than this, that [he] lay down his life for his friends.” Army Private First Class Ryan A. McGinnis demonstrated that love when he gave his life for his fellow soldiers in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
From an early age, Ryan dreamed of defending freedom in our nation’s military. When he was just five years old, his Kindergarten teacher asked him to draw a picture of what he wanted to be when he grew up. Ryan drew himself as an American soldier. When he graduated high school, he followed that dream and enlisted in the Army. Shortly thereafter, he deployed to Iraq.
Ryan’s battalion was conducting a routine patrol in Baghdad when an insurgent overhead dropped a grenade into their Humvee. When the grenade landed, Ryan was positioned above the Humvee in the gunner’s hatch. Unlike the four soldiers inside, he had time to jump from the vehicle and escape the explosion. But instead, Ryan chose to save his brothers, leaping on top of the grenade to absorb the full impact of the blast. When the grenade detonated, shrapnel ripped through his protective gear and pierced his flesh, killing him instantly. He was just 19 years old. Today, we honor Ryan’s memory by remembering his great love. Because of that love, four men are alive today.
Ryan McGinnis was a hero. When we speak of freedom, we often speak of heroes—we speak of their sacrifice, and we speak of their courage. Like peace and love, courage is another of freedom’s many fruits. When I think of courage, I think of my oldest brother, Jesse Morlan Hatch. I don’t speak about Jess often. It’s not an easy thing to do. Jess was everything to me. More than an older brother, he was my hero. In everything I did, I wanted to be just like Jess.
When World War II broke out, Jess enlisted in the Army Air Corps. I was so proud of him, but also concerned for his safety. My family and I prayed every day for his safe return. I kept a picture of Jess in the room we shared together before he deployed. Jess manned the nose gun on a B-24 Liberator. The nose gunner sat in one of the most vulnerable positions on the airplane. His job was dangerous, but he was good at it. In fact, he was one of the few American GIs to ever shoot down a German jet from the nose gunner position.
One day while Jesse was at war, I was playing in the woods near my home. Suddenly I felt the sickest feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I felt prompted to return home. When I did, I found my mother in tears. A man in uniform had just informed her that Jess’s plane had been shot down over Austria. He was presumed dead.
I was inconsolable. For weeks, I stayed home from school and couldn’t force down food. My already fragile frame grew even more emaciated from lack of appetite. At only ten years old, it seemed like my world had ended. My hero was gone forever. In those years, the feelings of grief and loss I felt were unfathomable. There are still days when my pain feels as fresh and as real as the day I received the news of my brother’s death.
There is little solace for those of us who have lost like this. I suspect some of you gathered here tonight have lost in a similar way. Though the grief was unbearable, I will be forever grateful for my brother’s example of courage. Jess’s courage stemmed from his love of freedom. He loved his country more than he loved himself, which is why he had the fortitude to mount the nose gunner’s seat in more than 185 missions over Europe. Though I will never experience the mortal dangers that my brother faced, I strive every day to honor his memory by having the moral courage to do what is right. All of us need that kind of courage.
I am profoundly grateful for the stories of these freedom-loving individuals—Aden Batar and his longing for peace; Ryan McGinnis and his ultimate sacrifice; Jesse Hatch and his indomitable courage. Their examples bear witness to the fruits of freedom: peace, love, courage, and honor. This week, as we celebrate liberty and its many virtues, may we honor these heroes’ example by renewing our own commitment to freedom and equality—the foundations of American democracy.
May God bless all of you, and may God bless America.