JAN-16: National Religious Freedom Day.
Religious Freedom Day (U.S.):
Religious Freedom Day is observed yearly on JAN-16. This recalls the date in 1786 when the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom -- written by Thomas Jefferson -- was passed.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) is perhaps best known for being President of the U.S. starting in the year 1800, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and the founder of what is now called the Democratic Party. However, he wanted to be known by future generations first for the creation of the Declaration of Independence, and second for the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. 1 In fact, he composed the inscription for his tombstone that says:
Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia." 2
Jefferson wrote the Virginia Statute in 1777. It was promoted in the Virginia General Assembly by James Madison and passed by the Assembly on 1786-JAN-16. It promotes two main principles: personal freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. The statute was a radical document for its time, because all or essentially all governments had an official state religion which was given special financial and other privileges.
The text of
"An Act for establishing religious Freedom:"
"Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;
That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, 3 or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,
That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;
That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;
That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;
That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,
That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,
That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;
That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;
That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;
That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;
And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:
Be it enacted by 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 opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
The Statute disestablished the Church of England what which was then the state religion of Virginia. The statute remains unchanged today as part of the Virginia Constitution. It was a main precursor of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which has guaranteed relative freedom from religious conflict throughout the history of the United States. 4
Proclamation of Religious Freedom Day:
A Joint Resolution of Congress in 1992 authorized and requested the President to issue a Religious Freedom Day proclamation. The resolution stated:
"Be it Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That January 16, 1993, is designated as “Religious Freedom Day,” and the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States to join together to celebrate their religious freedom and to observe the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities." 5
Starting with President George H.W. Bush in 1993, Presidents of the U.S. have proclaimed Religious Freedom Day with a proclamation issued annually. President Barack Obama's proclamation on 2013-JAN-16 was:
"Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose. Today, we celebrate one
of our Nation's first laws to protect that right --
the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Written
Jefferson and guided through the Virginia legislature by James Madison, the Statute affirmed that "Almighty God hath
created the mind free" and "all men shall be free to profess . . . their opinions in matters of religion." Years later, our
Founders looked to the Statute as a model when they
enshrined the principle of religious liberty in the Bill of Rights.
Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and
as we choose. As a free country, our story has been
shaped by every language and enriched by every culture. We
are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, Sikhs and non-believers. Our patchwork heritage is a strength we owe to our religious freedom.
Americans of every faith have molded the character
of our Nation. They were pilgrims who sought refuge from
persecution; pioneers who pursued brighter horizons; protesters who fought for abolition, women's suffrage, and civil
rights. Each generation has seen people of different faiths join together to advance peace, justice, and dignity for all.
Today, we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human
right to be
protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our
world cannot know lasting peace.
As we observe Religious Freedom Day, let us remember the legacy of faith and independence we have inherited,
and let us honor it by forever upholding our right
to exercise our beliefs free from prejudice or persecution.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority
in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2013, as Religious
Freedom Day. I call on all Americans to commemorate
this day with events and activities that teach us
critical foundation of our Nation's liberty, and show us how we can protect it for future generations
at home and
around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this sixteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord
thousand thirteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh." 6
Unfortunately, President Obama recognized in the second paragraph only Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Sikhism as organized religions. Others such as Buddhism, Deism, Native American Spirituality, Wicca, other neopagan religions, Zoroastrianism, etc. were ignored. Hopefully, in 2014, President Obama will insert a more inclusive phrase -- something like:
"... Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Deists, Sikhs, followers of other religions, and those unaffiliated with any organized religion."
Future of Religious Freedom Day:
The future of this celebration may be in doubt. This is because the meaning of "religious freedom" is gradually changing from a positive to a negative concept :
- It used to mean freedom by individuals and minority faith groups of: religious belief, religious speech, religious assembly with fellow believers, and religious proselytizing and recruitment.
In the past, the individual believer was often the target of oppression by others -- typically large religious groups and governments. (This is the meaning that we generally use on this web site).
- However, in recent years, religious liberty & freedom seem to be taking on a new meaning: the freedom and liberty of a believer apply their religious beliefs in order to hate, oppress, deny service to, denigrate, or reduce the human rights of other groups. Now, the direction of the oppression has reversed. It is now the believer who is the oppressor and others -- typically women, sexual and other minorities -- who are the targets. This new meaning -- the "religious freedom to discriminate"-- is becoming common in a number of areas, such as:
It is worth noting that this new meaning of religious freedom calls for people to violate of The Ethics of Reciprocity, which are found in all major religions. In Christianity, this is commonly referred to as the "Golden Rule." It is found in Matthew 7:12 and elsewhere in the Bible. Yeshua of Nazareth (a.k.a. Jesus Christ) is quoted as saying:
"Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men
should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom," Virginia Historical Society, undated, at: http://www.vahistorical.org/
- "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom," Wikipedia, as on 2013-DEC-17, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- "Burthen" is an archaic spelling for "burden."
- "Backgrounder on the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom," U. S Embassy - Germany, undated, at: http://usa.usembassy.de/
- "A brief history," Religious Freedom Day, Gateways to Better Education, undated, at: http://www.religiousfreedomday.com/ This is an accursed PDF file.
- President Barack Obama, "Presidential Proclamation -- Religious Freedom Day," 2013-FEB-16, at: http://www.religiousfreedomday.com/ This is a PDF file.
Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2014-JAN-06
Latest update: 2014-JAN-06
Author: B.A. Robinson