Each year on January 16th Americans observe Religious Freedom Day as a day to reflect on our Religious Freedom. Learn how it started and how significant this day truly is for Americans.
Religious Freedom Day
Religious Freedom Day all started with Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. That measure ended the state-established church in Virginia, finally protecting religious rights for all denominations. The Anglicans had fined, persecuted, jailed and even killed Christians who were not part of the state-established church, but Jefferson, a lifelong fervent advocate for the rights of religious liberty and religious conscience, had worked hard to protect and defend those Christians. To hear that Jefferson was a zealous defender of the rights of Christians may seem unusual to those who know Jefferson only by today’s errant portrayal as being a secularist who desired “a separation of church and state.” Jefferson definitely was not a secularist, and furthermore, his definition of separation of church and state actually was to keep the state from becoming secular.
On January 16, 1786, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted. It was one of the first laws in our Nation to codify the right of every person to profess their opinions in matters of faith, and it declares that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any” religion. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson and guided through the Virginia legislature by James Madison, this historic legislation served as a model for the religious liberty protections enshrined in our Constitution.
The First Amendment prohibits the Government from establishing a religion. 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. 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 faith in God.