The following remarks are adapted from a speech given by Sen. Mike Lee on Oct. 18 at the Heritage Foundation on the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

It’s a cause that began before America was even a glimmer in the eyes of our Founding Fathers. The early settlers who set foot on these shores brought with them dreams of a new life. Their hope was not just for wealth or opportunity, but the simple dream to pray and exercise their religion in peace.

The ink was barely dry on our Declaration of Independence when Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and others realized that the heartbeat of this nation would be its unwavering commitment to religious freedom. Their vision, crystallized in the First Amendment, became a cornerstone of our great Republic.

As our nation expanded, so did our embrace of religious freedom. We saw faith not as a monolith, but as a diverse, dynamic force shaping communities from the bustling streets of New York to the serene valleys of Utah.

The 19th century, marked by the leadership of figures like Andrew Jackson, saw waves of immigrants bringing new faiths to our shores. Tensions rose and intolerance raised its ugly head, but America’s commitment to religious liberty proved resilient. 

In reflecting on our nation’s rich history of religious freedom, I am reminded of the experiences of my own ancestors and countless others who shared their faith. The early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encountered intense persecution in America. 

Utah stands as a beacon of their enduring spirit; it was where these determined individuals, led by Brigham Young, sought refuge and a land where they could practice their faith without oppression. Their story is not just a chapter in my personal history, but a chapter in the story of America; it serves as a profound reminder of the lengths to which people will go to ensure religious liberty for themselves and their posterity.

Today, as we stand at the crossroads of history, the onus to protect this indispensable freedom rests firmly with us.

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We must remember our roots, stand firm in our convictions and ensure that the promise of religious freedom remains unbroken for generations to come. Each generation inherits the responsibility of ensuring that these liberties are not merely retained but invigorated. 

Our Founding Fathers grappled with a fledgling government, striving to ensure that it would not infringe upon the religious rights of its citizens. Fast forward to today, and the landscape has dramatically shifted. Our federal government has evolved, expanding in both size and reach. Its astronomical growth has presented us with fresh obstacles to overcome.

Imagine, for a moment, a city skyline. Tall buildings stand strong, each representing different sects of our religious beliefs and institutions. And then there’s Godzilla — a massive, mighty force. Now, Godzilla, in our analogy, is not inherently malevolent. But he is enormous, he is powerful, and he is, at times, carelessly destructive. That behemoth represents our federal government. And as Godzilla might inadvertently knock down a building, our federal government, if unchecked, can trample on the sacred grounds of our religious freedoms.

Today, that once-restrained and limited central government has grown to a scale that those early patriots could have never imagined. It’s become our Godzilla. It is not inherently evil, but its sheer size and the breadth of its influence means it can tread on the very freedoms we hold dear — and often does. 

Amid this backdrop of a burgeoning governmental presence, it is imperative to revisit the core tenets that anchor our nation. 

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment is no mere sentence in a document; it’s the very cornerstone of our nation’s foundation. It states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...” 

It’s a right that acknowledges the inherent dignity of every individual to live according to the dictates of their conscience and faith. Our Founding Fathers did not craft the First Amendment to hide religion, but to ensure its free exercise in every corner of our society. 

Many can still remember 1993, when the Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed the Senate 97 to 3. It passed the House of Representatives by voice vote — completely uncontroversial. It was sponsored in the House by none other than Congressman Chuck Schumer. 

But the landscape has evolved since then. As the threats to religious freedom become more nuanced, our defense must be equally adaptive. 

We must act to protect those with sincerely held religious beliefs and moral convictions on marriage and human nature, ensuring that they are not persecuted for living in keeping with their convictions.

Remember that our right to religious freedom is precious and precarious. It requires our ceaseless defense and our unwavering commitment. Together, we’ll ensure that the skyline of religious freedom remains untouched, vibrant and resplendent for generations to come.

Sen. Mike Lee is the senior United States Senator from Utah.