January 16 Is Religious Freedom Day
Special Report - January 8, 2008
Each year since 1993, the President has declared January 16 to be Religious Freedom Day, commemorating the Virginia legislature’s passage in 1786 of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson. The Statute recognized the right of all peoples to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. It also was a model for the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and its guarantee of religious freedom, recognizing that the right to worship freely is a right granted by God, not government. President Bush is expected to declare January 16, 2008 as Religious Freedom Day.
President George H.W. Bush issued the first Religious Freedom Day Proclamation in 1993 in response to a request from Congress. President Clinton issued a Religious Freedom Day Proclamation every year of his presidency, and in 1995 and 1998, under his directive, the U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines clarifying students’ religious liberties in public school classrooms. President George W. Bush has followed this precedent, issuing Religious Freedom Day Proclamations every year of his presidency, and in 2003 the U.S. Department of Education updated the guidelines clarifying students’ religious liberties at the President’s direction.
President Bush’s Religious Freedom Day Proclamation in 2007 urged Americans to: “reflect on the great blessing of religious liberty, endeavor to preserve this freedom for future generations, and commemorate this day with appropriate events and activities in their schools, places of worship, neighborhoods, and homes.”
Religious Freedom Day provides an opportunity to highlight a key provision of the North Carolina Constitution that from the very beginning of our State has embraced religious liberty. The Declaration of Rights in our Constitution contains Section 13, which states: “All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”
To help stop censorship of students’ religious expression and to encourage schools to observe Religious Freedom Day, a group of national organizations has formed a coalition at www.ReligiousFreedomDay.com. The Coalition has published a manual for individuals to utilize in educating school officials about religious liberties in the classroom. The manual can be downloaded from the website address above.
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