Two-hundred and thirty-two years ago yesterday – January 16, 1786 – the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, legislation ensuring that no citizen would have to choose between their personal faith and the law of the land.
Prior to the American Revolution, Baptists were being harassed and arrested for worshipping in their own homes. Pastors were even being incarcerated.
It was amid this atmosphere that led Thomas Jefferson to pen, in part:
“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.”
Over two centuries later these foundational principles, which are enshrined in the First Amendment, are now tenuous and under assault. In fact, they’re currently under debate before nine justices of the United States Supreme Court in the case involving my friend, Lakewood, Colo., baker Jack Phillips.
I am grateful that President Donald Trump continues to use the bully pulpit of his office to speak out in support of religious freedom, which we strongly support.
By his executive authority, yesterday was declared “National Religious Freedom Day.”
The forty-fifth president has issued an official proclamation that states, unequivocally:
“The United States is … the paramount champion for religious freedom around the world, because we do not believe that conscience rights are only for Americans. We will continue to condemn and combat extremism, terrorism, and violence against people of faith, including genocide waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims. We will be undeterred in our commitment to monitor religious persecution and implement policies that promote religious freedom. Through these efforts, we strive for the day when people of all faiths can follow their hearts and worship according to their consciences. The free exercise of religion is a source of personal and national stability, and its preservation is essential to protecting human dignity. Religious diversity strengthens our communities and promotes tolerance, respect, understanding, and equality. Faith breathes life and hope into our world. We must diligently guard, preserve, and cherish this unalienable right.”
Religious groups, business owners or even regular citizens should never have to violate their faith in order to follow the law. It’s not the role of government to define what we believe or what our faith includes.
Please don’t forget to join us online tomorrow and Friday at our Evangelicals for Life conference in Washington, D.C. For details, please click here.