Today is Religious Freedom Day. As I mentioned in a recent post, this event is not as well-known as it should be. At Americans United, we’d like to see that change.
Religious Freedom Day marks the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This bill, drafted by Thomas Jefferson and pushed through the Virginia legislature by James Madison, became law on Jan. 16, 1786. Many scholars regard it as a precursor to the First Amendment.
The heart of the law reads: “Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
Under federal law, the president is required to issue a proclamation recognizing Religious Freedom Day. President Barack Obama’s proclamation for 2015 is quite good.
“The First Amendment prohibits the Government from establishing religion,” it reads. “It protects the right of every person to practice their faith how they choose, to change their faith, or to practice no faith at all, and to do so free from persecution and fear.”
The proclamation goes on to say, “This religious freedom allows faith to flourish, and our Union is stronger because a vast array of religious communities coexist peacefully with mutual respect for one another. Since the age of Jefferson and Madison, brave women and men of faith have challenged our conscience; today, our Nation continues to be shaped by people of every religion and of no religion, bringing us closer to our founding ideals. As heirs to this proud legacy of liberty, we must remain vigilant in our efforts to safeguard these freedoms.”
Americans United has a number of resources available to help you celebrate Religious Freedom Day and spread the word about it.
But perhaps the most important thing you can do on Religious Freedom Day is reflect upon the grand measure of freedom it gave us – and resolve to oppose all of those who, even today, are working to undermine the handiwork of Jefferson and Madison.