Americans have long been blessed with abundant freedom to live, believe, and worship as we desire. President Obama declared:
"For nearly four centuries, men and women have immigrated to America's shores in pursuit of religious freedom. Hailing from diverse backgrounds and faiths, countless settlers have shared a simple aspiration -- to practice their beliefs free from prejudice and persecution.
"In 1786, the Virginia General Assembly took a bold step toward preserving this fundamental liberty by passing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which brought to life the ideal of religious tolerance from the texts of the Enlightenment in the laws of state...
"Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia Statute formed the basis for the First Amendment, which has preserved religious freedom for both believers and non-believers for over 220 years..."
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, teaches us more about Thomas Jefferson's legacy:
"If you've ever toured Monticello, then you know that Thomas Jefferson had very strong opinions about what his legacy should be.
"He wanted to be remembered as the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and as the 'father' of the University of Virginia.
"Both are inscribed on his tombstone, along with his second proudest achievement--authoring the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom.
"That might surprise Americans today, who wrongly believe that our third President wanted to divorce the government of all religious expression. On the contrary, what Jefferson wrote in Fredericksburg some 230 years ago was such a groundbreaking defense of freedom that the men who drafted our Constitution relied on it for the framework of the First Amendment.
"'No nation,' the third President said years later, 'has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be.' Thomas Jefferson understood then, as we do now, that religious freedom is fundamental to every other freedom on earth. Maybe that's why, despite all of his other accomplishments, Jefferson considered the statute one of his greatest legislative feats."
Many of us have taken our legacy of religious liberty for granted -- like the air we breathe, it has always been abundant. Lately, as our rights have been questioned, I have appreciated more than ever before the sacrifices so many have made to preserve religious freedom in America. It's our turn to preserve and pass on this noble heritage.