Home Christian News Who Was Thomas Becket and Why Is President Trump Honoring Him?

Who Was Thomas Becket and Why Is President Trump Honoring Him?

thomas becket

To mark the 850th anniversary of the murder of St. Thomas Becket, President Trump issued a proclamation this week honoring the 12th-century martyr and calling for an end to faith-based persecution. Calling the Catholic archbishop “a lion of religious liberty,” the proclamation notes, “Before the Magna Carta was drafted, before the right to free exercise of religion was enshrined as America’s first freedom in our glorious Constitution, Thomas gave his life so that, as he said, ‘the Church will attain liberty and peace.’”

Thomas Becket’s Place in History

Becket, who became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, had numerous conflicts with King Henry II about church-state issues. When Becket rejected the Constitutions of Clarendon, which would have limited clergy rights, he fled to France. After six years in exile, he returned to England with the help of Pope Alexander III, but the truce didn’t last long. Frustrated by Becket’s repeated defense of religious liberty, the king reportedly asked, “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”

On December 29, 1170, four of the king’s knights murdered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral after he refused a final ultimatum. The martyr’s last words were, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the Church, I am ready to embrace death.”

Becket’s stand “changed the course of history,” the White House proclamation notes. “It eventually brought about numerous constitutional limitations on the power of the state over the Church across the West.” These include the Magna Carta, issued in England in 1215, and “the establishment of religious liberty in the New World.” Remembering Becket’s legacy, says the proclamation, shows that freedom “is not a mere luxury or accident of history.”

Proclamation: ‘End religious persecution’

As part of the commemoration of Becket’s “courageous stand,” Trump emphasized America’s commitment to defend religious freedom. “We reaffirm our call to end religious persecution worldwide,” the proclamation reads. “Crimes against people of faith must stop, prisoners of conscience must be released, laws restricting freedom of religion and belief must be repealed, and the vulnerable, the defenseless, and the oppressed must be protected.” It concludes, “A society without religion cannot prosper. A nation without faith cannot endure—because justice, goodness, and peace cannot prevail without the grace of God.”

Trump’s proclamation requests prayer for persecuted believers, specifically naming Cardinal Joseph Zen of Hong Kong and Pastor Wang Yi of Chengdu, China.

With 2020’s pandemic, religious liberty has been a hot topic not just overseas but throughout America. Lockdowns and worship restrictions have led to claims that churches are being unfairly targeted. Becket Law, a D.C.-based nonprofit firm named for the martyr, has defended some congregations in cases regarding virus-related orders.

Ahead of Joe Biden’s presidency, some people are expressing fear that religious freedoms are at risk. John Daniel Davidson, political editor of The Federalist, warns about “how diametrically opposed” Biden’s views on that subject are from Trump’s. “Under a Biden-Harris administration,” he writes, “it’s not hard to imagine the president and vice president saying, as King Henry II did of Becket, ‘Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?’”

With the upcoming leadership transition, Davidson adds, Americans “should expect persecution of the church. And when it comes, we should be ready to say, like Becket, ‘God is the supreme ruler, above Kings… we ought to obey God rather than men.’”

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Stephanie Martin, a freelance journalist, has worked in Christian publishing for 28 years. She’s active at her church in Lakewood, Colorado, where she lives with her family.