Religious Freedom Day
His Grace has been sent another missive by The White House.
He is deeply honoured that the President should think of him; jolly decent, in fact, when you consider how busy he must be.
It his the text of his Proclamation of Religious Freedom Day, 2011. The day is the anniversary of the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson drafted the legislation and considered it one of his greatest achievements. It stopped the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of the local clergy, and it protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination.
The men who drafted the US Constitution leaned heavily on Jefferson’s statute in establishing the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. As we see an oppressive world steadily diminishing the rights of believers to express their faith, this declaration has become more than mere symbolism:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release January 14, 2011
RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY, 2011
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Our Nation was founded on a shared commitment to the values
of justice, freedom, and equality. On Religious Freedom Day,
we commemorate Virginia's 1786 Statute for Religious Freedom,
in which Thomas Jefferson wrote that "all men shall be free to
profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters
of religion." The fundamental principle of religious freedom --
guarded by our Founders and enshrined in our Constitution's
First Amendment -- continues to protect rich faiths flourishing
within our borders.
The writ of the Founding Fathers has upheld the ability
of Americans to worship and practice religion as they choose,
including the right to believe in no religion at all. However,
these liberties are not self-sustaining, and require a stalwart
commitment by each generation to preserve and apply them.
Throughout our Nation's history, our founding ideal of religious
freedom has served as an example to the world. Though our
Nation has sometimes fallen short of the weighty task of
ensuring freedom of religious expression and practice, we have
remained a Nation in which people of different faiths coexist
with mutual respect and equality under the law. America's
unshakeable commitment to religious freedom binds us together
as a people, and the strength of our values underpins a country
that is tolerant, just, and strong.
My Administration continues to defend the cause of
religious freedom in the United States and around the world.
At home, we vigorously protect the civil rights of Americans,
regardless of their religious beliefs. Across the globe, we
also seek to uphold this human right and to foster tolerance
and peace with those whose beliefs differ from our own. We bear
witness to those who are persecuted or attacked because of their
faith. We condemn the attacks made in recent months against
Christians in Iraq and Egypt, along with attacks against people
of all backgrounds and beliefs. The United States stands with
those who advocate for free religious expression and works to
protect the rights of all people to follow their conscience,
free from persecution and discrimination.
On Religious Freedom Day, let us reflect on the principle
of religious freedom that has guided our Nation forward, and
recommit to upholding this universal human right both at home
and around the world.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the
United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in
me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do
hereby proclaim January 16, 2011, as Religious Freedom Day.
I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events
and activities that teach us about this critical foundation
of our Nation's liberty, and to show us how we can protect it
for future generations here and around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand
this fourteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord
two thousand eleven, and of the Independence of the
United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.
For those who are interested, here follows the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:
Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.