ESTABLISHED in 1992 in recognition of the freedom all Americans have to practice whatever faith they choose or none at all. This right, this freedom, is one of the things that make our nation so great, and establishing a day to recognize this right and to remind us we have this right was a good thing. It is too bad the right wing Christian extremist dismiss this day because it doesn't support their false revisionist history of America being founded as a Christian nation. They are blinded by racism, prejudice, ignorance and hate, characteristics not promoted in the teachings of Jesus Christ. From the article below "So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.” From +Daily Kos .....
The Christian Right has made religious freedom the ideological phalanx of its current campaigns in the culture wars. Religious freedom is now invoked as a way of seeking to derail access to reproductive health services as well as equality for LGBTQ people, most prominently regarding marriage equality.
But history provides little comfort for the theocratic visions of the Christian Right. And that is where our story begins.
The day commemorates the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786.
Why is this seemingly obscure piece of Revolutionary-era legislation so vital? And why doesn’t the Christian Right want you to know anything about it?
The bill, authored by Thomas Jefferson and later pushed through the state legislature by then member of the House of Delegates, James Madison, is regarded as the root of how the framers of the Constitution approached matters of religion and government, and it was as revolutionary as the era in which it was written.
It not only disestablished the Anglican Church as the official state church, but it provided that no one can be compelled to attend any religious institution or to underwrite it with taxes; that individuals are free to believe as they will and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
As a practical matter, this meant that what we believe or don’t believe is not the concern of government and that we are all equal as citizens.
Following the dramatic passage of the Statute in 1786, Madison traveled to Philadelphia, where he served as a principal author of the Constitution in 1787. As a Member of Congress in 1789 he was also a principal author of the First Amendment, which passed in 1791.
Jefferson was well aware that many did not like the Statute, just as they did not like the Constitution and the First Amendment, both of which sought to expand the rights of citizens and deflect claims of churches seeking special consideration.
So before his death, Jefferson sought to get the last word on what it meant. The Statute, he wrote, contained “within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohametan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”
That is a powerful and clear statement. Jefferson, almost 200 years ago, refuted the contemporary claims of Christian Right leaders, many of whom not only insist that America was founded as a Christian nation, but that the framers really meant their particular interpretation of Christianity. (And they are sometimes encouraged by a surprisingly wide array of pundits.)
Jefferson further explained that the legislature had specifically rejected proposed language that would have described “Jesus Christ” as “the holy author of our religion.” This was rejected, he reported, “by the great majority.”
No wonder the Christian Right does not want us to remember the original Statute for Religious Freedom — it doesn’t fit their narrative of history! Nor does it justify their vision of the struggles of the political present, or the shining theocratic future they envision.
Religious Freedom Day is nothing but bad news for the likes of Religious Right leaders like Tony Perkins, who argue that Christians who favor marriage equality are not really Christians. They can believe that if they want, but it can make no difference in the eyes of the law. That is probably why on Religious Freedom Day 2014, Perkins made no mention of what Religious Freedom Day is really about — instead using the occasion to denounce president Obama’s approach to religious liberty abroad.
This barely commemorated day provides an opportunity for LGBTQ people, and progressives generally, to reclaim a philosophical, legal and constitutional legacy that the Christian Right is busy trying to redefine for their own purposes.
Alright. So the Christian Right really does not want us to know about this day, but if we do, they certainly don't want us thinking about this stuff -- and so the standard fare of faux outrage about president Obama and various conspiracies against faith in general and conservative Christianity in general is likely to dominate our foreseeable future.
But it doesn't have to be this way. And the Christian Right probably knows it.
When I say that the Christian Right does not want “us” to think about it, I mean everyone who is not the Christian Right and their allies, and especially not LGBTQ people and the otherwise “insufficiently Christian.” I think that is why the Christian Right is mostly so eerily quiet about it, even though religious freedom is so central to their political program.
But what if we did?
What if we seized this day to think dynamically about the religious freedoms we take for granted at our peril; freedom that is in danger of being redefined beyond recognition. What if we decided to seize this day to consider our best values as a nation and advance the cause of equal rights for all?
If we did, we might begin by recalling the extraordinary challenge faced by the framers of the Constitution when they gathered in Philadelphia. They met to create one nation out of 13 fractious colonies still finding their way after a successful revolt against the British Empire; and contending with a number of powerful and well-established state churches and a growing and religiously diverse population.
Their answer? Religious equality. And it is rooted in Jefferson’s bill. Let's remind ourselves about the origins of the bill.
Jefferson wrote the first draft in 1777 — just after having authored the Declaration of Independence in 1776. And it was James Madison who finally got the legislation passed through the Virginia legislature in 1786, just months before he traveled to Philadelphia to be a principal author of the Constitution. The Virginia Statute states that no one can be compelled to attend or support any religious institution, or otherwise be restrained in their beliefs, and that this “shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities . . .”
The Constitution, framed according to “The Virginia Plan,” drafted primarily by Madison, contains no mention of God or Christianity. In fact, the final text’s only mention of religion is in the proscription of “religious tests for public office,” found in Article 6.
In other words — Jefferson’s words — one’s religious identity, or lack thereof, has no bearing on one’s “civil capacities.”
If we thought about the meaning of Religious Freedom Day, we might start thinking about things like that — and not capitulate to the Christian Right’s effort to redefine religious freedom to include a license for business and institutional leaders (both government and civil) to impose their religious beliefs on employees and the public.
If we thought about things like that, then we might consider them in light of a host of initiatives in recent years, often advanced under the banner of religious freedom, but which, in fact, restrict the religious freedom of others.
We might consider, for example, the recent federal court decision in the case of General Synod of the United Church of Christ v. Cooper, which found that North Carolina’s ban on clergy performing marriage ceremonies without first obtaining a civil marriage license, was unconstitutional.
Since state law declared that same-sex couples could not get marriage licenses, this subjected clergy in the United Church of Christ, the Alliance of Baptists, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, among others, to potential prosecution for performing a religious ceremony.
As religious equality advances, so does equal rights for all. So you can see why the Christian Right might not want people—people like us—thinking like Jefferson. And that is why we must.
Religious Freedom Day was the brainchild of some of the town fathers and mothers of Richmond, Virginia, who have since created a museum dedicated to education about the Virginia Statute (PDF).
But we need more than a museum to breathe more life and liberty into the living Constitution. Not much goes on around the country on Religious Freedom Day, January 16th.
There is no time like the present to seize this day.
This post is adapted from two recent columns at LGBTQ Nation, and is crossposted from Talk to Action.
The Statute for Religious Freedom is one of only three accomplishments Jefferson instructed be put in his epitaph.
Text of statute
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, 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.
When the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted on January 16, 1786, it formed a blueprint for what would become the basis for the protection of religious liberty enshrined in our Constitution. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the statute proclaims 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." The First Amendment prohibits Government from establishing religion, and it protects the free exercise of every faith. Our Government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all. The United States stands for the protection of equal rights for all people to practice their faith freely, without fear or coercion, and as Americans, we understand that when people of all religions are accepted and are full and equal members of our society, we are all stronger and freer.
Our commitment to religious freedom has fostered unprecedented religious diversity and freedom of religious practice. But these ideals are not self-executing. Rather, they require a sustained commitment by each generation to uphold and preserve them. Here at home, my Administration is working to preserve religious liberty and enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom -- including laws that protect employees from religious discrimination and require reasonable accommodation of religious practices on the job. We will keep upholding the right of religious communities to establish places of worship and protecting the religious rights of those so often forgotten by society, such as incarcerated persons and individuals confined to institutions. We will also continue to protect students from discrimination and harassment that is based on their faith, and we will continue to enforce hate crime laws, including those perpetrated based on a person's actual or perceived religion. This work is crucial, particularly given the recent spike in reports of threats and violence against houses of worship, children, and adults simply because of their religious affiliation.
As we strive to uphold religious freedom at home, we recognize that this basic element of human dignity does not stop at our shores, and we work to promote religious freedom around the globe. We are working with a broad coalition against those who have subjected religious minorities to unspeakable violence and persecution, and we are mobilizing religious and civic leaders to defend vulnerable religious communities. In addition, we are calling for the elimination of improper restrictions that suppress religious practice, coordinating with governments around the world to promote religious freedom for citizens of every faith, and expanding training for our diplomats on how to monitor and advocate for this freedom. All people deserve the fundamental dignity of practicing their faith free from fear, intimidation, and violence.
On Religious Freedom Day, let us recommit ourselves to protecting religious minorities here at home and around the world. May we remember those who have been persecuted, tortured, or murdered for their faith and reject any politics that targets people because of their religion, including any suggestion that our laws, policies, or practices should single out certain faiths for disfavored treatment. And as one Nation, let us state clearly and without equivocation that an attack on any faith is an attack on every faith and come together to promote religious freedom for all.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2016 as Religious Freedom Day. I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our Nation's liberty, and that 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 fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.