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"America is about freedom": slain Charleston pastor Clementa Pinckney’s moving speech on justice

Pastor and state Senator Clementa Pinckney was among the nine people murdered last night in a mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Pinckney was a revered leader in his community, and was considered a rising star in the South Carolina Democratic Party. But as this 2013 speech shows, he was also a thoughtful and moving advocate for the universal values of freedom and justice, someone who could articulate not only the benefits of liberty and equality, but also the price that was worth paying to achieve them.

Pinckney began his speech by explaining to his audience that he considered the struggle for justice to be a fundamental element of his faith. "What our denomination stands for," he explained, "is the universe of all people being treated fairly under the law."

He then went on to discuss how that philosophy tied into the beliefs of one of the founders of Emanuel AME church, Denmark Vesey, who was the leader of a failed slave uprising in South Carolina. Vesey, he said, understood the value of freedom, and that it was important enough to risk his life for:

Could we not argue that America is about freedom whether we live it out or not? But it's really about freedom, equality and the pursuit of happiness. And that is what church is all about: freedom to worship and freedom from sin, freedom to be full of what God intends us to be, and to have equality in the sight of God. And sometimes you got to make noise to do that. Sometimes you may even have to die like Denmark Vesey to do that. Sometimes you have to march, struggle and be unpopular to do that.

"We don't see ourselves as just a place people come to worship," Pinckney said of his church, but "as a beacon, and a bearer of the culture, and a bearer of what makes us a people."

Last night, that beacon, that people, and that culture came under a devastating, violent attack.