President Donald Trump, like the commanders-in-chief before him, has declared Jan. 16 “Religious Freedom Day,” an annual, commemorative proclamation aimed at celebrating one of the nation’s core freedoms.
Trump’s proclamation opens by noting that “faith is embedded in the history, spirit, and soul of our nation” and goes on to state that Religious Freedom Day celebrates the “many faiths that make up our country.”
From there, the proclamation goes on to give an important history lesson about the views of America’s Founding Fathers, with a specific focus placed on a 232-year-old law titled the “Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.” Here’s more on that:
Our forefathers, seeking refuge from religious persecution, believed in the eternal truth that freedom is not a gift from the government, but a sacred right from Almighty God. On the coattails of the American Revolution, on January 16, 1786, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. This seminal bill, penned by Thomas Jefferson, states 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.” Five years later, these principles served as the inspiration for the First Amendment, which affirms our right to choose and exercise faith without government coercion or reprisal.
Trump went on to say that a diverse pool of Americans remain committed to “inherent values of faith, honesty, integrity and patriotism.” The laws permit people to believe as they so choose and to also freely exercise their faith, the president affirmed.
But Trump also issued a warning while heralding these constitutional protections, taking aim at some policies that he believes endanger the very protections that were crafted by America’s forefathers.
“Unfortunately, not all have recognized the importance of religious freedom, whether by threatening tax consequences for particular forms of religious speech, or forcing people to comply with laws that violate their core religious beliefs without sufficient justification,” Trump wrote. “These incursions, little by little, can destroy the fundamental freedom underlying our democracy.”
The president said that no American should be forced to choose between the “tenants of faith or adherence to the law,” and he pledged to continue fighting extremism and violence across the globe. Read the proclamation in its entirety here.
While Trump focused in on protections for religious freedom, former president Barack Obama’s 2017 statement mentioned the fact that nearly 20 percent of hate crimes in the U.S. were based on religious bias.
“That is unacceptable — and as Americans, we have an obligation to do better,” Obama said.
Read Obama’s statement in its entirety here.