January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, commemorating the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. In his proclamation | [.pdf] this year, President Barack Obama writes:
The Virginia Statute was more than a law. It was a statement of principle, declaring freedom of religion as the natural right of all humanity — not a privilege for any government to give or take away. Penned by Thomas Jefferson and championed in the Virginia legislature by James Madison, it barred compulsory support of any church and ensured the freedom of all people to profess their faith openly, without fear of persecution. Five years later, the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights followed the Virginia Statute’s model, stating, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”.
This is a good time to review both the frequently misstated history of religious freedom in the United States, and the frequently misdescribed current law: Religious Expression in American Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law.
Religious freedom advocates are pleased following President Barak Obama’s visit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who spoke out about the need for religious freedom in China. President Obama also emphasized the importance of freedom of information in a question-and-answer session with college students in Shanghai.
He also criticized Chinese Internet censorship and “praised freedom of expression and political participation.”
In a joint letter [.pdf] to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today, a broad coalition of organizations said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed in 1993, was designed to protect religious liberty, not countenance discrimination.
The 58 signatories have asked Holder to beging the process of withdrawing the “constitutionally questionable” June 2007 memo which held that RFRA could exempt certain religious organizations from federal anti-discrimination provisions
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, said:
The Bush administration twisted federal law to buttress its misguided policies and allow religious discrimination in taxpayer-funded ‘faith-based’ programs. It’s time for the Obama administration to correct this error.
J. Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee For Religions Liberty said:
Having helped to spearhead the RFRA effort, I know of no one in 1993 who thought the new law would ever be applied this way.
In a joint statement, Glen S. Lewy, ADL National Chair, and Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director said:
We remain deeply troubled by President Obama’s faith-based initiative. The president made it clear during his campaign that the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative lacked essential safeguards against proselytizing. It is disappointing that he has not yet acted on his very clear commitments to ensure that grant money will not be used to proselytize or to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious beliefs.
[Hat tip to Dr. Bruce Prescott.]
In response to the injustices of the Second World War, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations’ General Assembly adopted what it called the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
On this, the 60th anniversary of the Declaration, it is time to take a look at the ways that one of the human rights it listed, the idea of religious freedom, is being used, ironically, to further discriminatory agendas.
We recommend you read the entire essay.