Washington, D.C. — Marking the anniversary of the passage in 1786 of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, each year, the President declares January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day. Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy issued the following statement commemorating the significance of Religious Freedom Day:
I am proud to live in a democracy that protects my right to follow the faith I choose, and I cherish the freedoms guaranteed to us by our founders. As someone committed to protecting the boundaries between religion and government, the First Amendment to the Constitution often serves as the foundation for my work. However, on this day, chosen for good reason, I am reminded of what an incredible document the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is and how forward-thinking its author, Thomas Jefferson, was.
To those who seek to chip away at our liberties by redefining religious freedom to only include their own faiths, I would ask only that you go back and read the text of this important document and embrace what Jefferson knew well more than 200 years ago: ‘That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers … setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible …’ would in effect be setting up a false religion.
So sure of themselves were Jefferson and his fellow legislators that they expressed a desire for the act to be irrevocable, and yet they understood that someone might try to do just that, and therefore characterized doing so as being ‘an infringement on natural right.’
At a time when the definition of religious freedom is itself under attack, when the fallacy that ours is a ‘Christian Nation’ starts to become accepted in the mainstream, when fear of and discrimination against minority religious groups has become widespread, when some in the religious community would use their religion to trump the civil and basic human rights of others, we know we have our work cut out for us.
This year’s celebration of Religious Freedom Day coincides with the day we remember the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a leader who successfully demanded equal rights for all based on the Constitution, while at the same time lent his moral voice to the cause. Dr. King embraced all those who stood with him in his quest for civil rights and gave his life for the establishment of a society in which all citizens are equal and none more important to government than others. We who are committed to protecting faith and freedom, religion and democracy, look to his example today as an inspiration to push forward.
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.