Earlier this month, President Donald J. Trump issued a proclamation recognizing that today is Bill of Rights Day. It was an easy proclamation to overlook: The president hasn’t tweeted about it at all as of this writing. Instead, his Twitter feed has been filled with comments on the tax bill, attempts to walk back his unsuccessful support of Roy Moore’s failed Senate campaign; wishes for a Merry Christmas and attacks on the media.
Trump’s tweets about “fake news” and calling on The Washington Post to fire a reporter illustrate why it’s so ironic for this president to be recognizing Bill of Rights Day. I think it’s fair to say the attacks Trump has launched on our First Amendment rights have been unprecedented.
All year we’ve documented his attempts to undermine religious freedom – his vicious Muslim ban; his vow to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment”; his administration’s efforts to use religion as an excuse to discriminate against women, the LGBTQ community and others; his push to undermine public education by funneling taxpayer money to private, mostly religious schools.
Not only has he repeatedly attacked our free press, he’s also launched salvos against our free speech rights – the day after he signed the Bill of Rights proclamation, he was at a campaign rally in Florida where he once again decried NFL players who take a knee during the National Anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. And of course, there’s Trump’s insistence that Americans have to say “Merry Christmas” this time of year.
So it’s laughable that the anti-First Amendment president is recognizing the Bill of Rights today. On the other hand, it’s nice that he’s upholding a tradition that’s been in place since President Franklin D. Roosevelt first recognized Bill of Rights Day in 1941. After all, Trump made headlines when he declined to follow his predecessor’s shoes in recognizing June as National LGBT Pride Month.
While Trump may not show much respect to the Bill of Rights, we certainly do. Today marks the 226th anniversary of Virginia becoming the last state needed to approve the Bill of Rights, an action which allowed the first 10 amendments to be added to the Constitution.
On Bill of Rights Day, we honor the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution – especially religous freedom.
The First Amendment is particularly important to us here at Americans United, and it is the amendment that FDR focused on when he designated Bill of Rights Day in 1941. His proclamation reads in part:
“It is fitting that the anniversary of its adoption should be remembered by the Nation which, for one hundred and fifty years, has enjoyed the immeasurable privileges which that charter guaranteed: the privileges of freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and the free right to petition the Government for redress of grievances.
“It is especially fitting that this anniversary should be remembered and observed by those institutions of a democratic people which owe their very existence to the guarantees of the Bill of Rights: the free schools, the free churches, the labor unions, the religious and educational and civic organizations of all kinds which, without the guarantee of the Bill of Rights, could never have existed; which sicken and disappear whenever, in any country, these rights are curtailed or withdrawn.”
Our forefathers recognized that religious freedom is a vital component in our free society. Just as AU has done for the past 70 years, we’ll continue to protect the right of all Americans to believe, or not, as their conscience dictates, so long as they don’t use religion as an excuse to harm others.
So ignore Trump when he tells you to say “Merry Christmas” – you have the right to say that, or to say “Happy Holidays,” or to recognize another religious holiday, or to say nothing at all. I think I’ll make it a point to say “Happy Holidays” – and every time I say it, I’ll be including Bill of Rights Day and thinking about what it means.