Religious Freedom Day, 16 January 2018
Each year since 1993 the President has declared January 16th to be “Religious Freedom Day,” in order to remember the passage of Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. President Trump has not yet released his proclamation.
Update: From President Trump’s proclamation [emphasis added]:
Our Constitution and laws guarantee Americans the right not just to believe as they see fit, but to freely exercise their religion. 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. These incursions, little by little, can destroy the fundamental freedom underlying our democracy…No American — whether a nun, nurse, baker, or business owner — should be forced to choose between the tenets of faith or adherence to the law.
Jefferson’s statute continues to be a strong expression for the value of religious liberty even today. Though the statute has been discussed in many places and in great depth, there are two important points to take from the statute. First, [emphasis added]
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.
Jefferson clearly believed religious freedom allowed men to maintain — and profess — their beliefs without impact to their civil roles. Those civil roles would likely include those who serve in government — including the military, though the concept of a standing military was foreign to the US at the time.
Modern liberalism has attempted to appropriate Jefferson’s language to assert this as an argument for limiting the influence of religion in government — awkwardly claiming that the presence of religious thought somehow alienates those without religion. But that argument belies the main point of Jefferson’s statute: That is, a religious person ought to be able to profess (and argue) their religious beliefs — even “offensive” Christian beliefs — without that “diminishing” their “civil capacity” as a public servant.
The rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind…
Jefferson’s statute, written before the US Constitution, reminds us religious freedom does not come from any document written by the hand of man.
Religious freedom is a natural right; it is a human liberty. Despite the claims of some critics, the US Constitution, awesome document though it is, is not the source of religious freedom (or any other liberty, for that matter). The Constitution simply attempts to protect man’s natural right of religious freedom (from the federal government). Thus, though Jefferson is often (mistakenly) lauded for his description of a “separation of church and state,” his statute indicates even he believed in a moral concept greater than the Constitution.
The religious freedom protected by the US Constitution results in an amazing array of public ideological and theological differences. That’s a good thing, and America should hold that up to the world as a model.
As annually published.