Most Americans know that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is observed on the third Monday in January. It's the federal holiday when we celebrate Dr. King's birthday (January 15th). This year it falls on Monday, January 16th.
But did you know January 16th is also National Religious Freedom Day in the United States?
Few people are aware of this important day because, unlike people in many other parts of the world, we have long been blessed with abundant freedom to live and worship as we desire.
It's a day when we celebrate the adoption of Thomas Jefferson's historic Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786.
As President Obama recalled, "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...
"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, says 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,' Thomas Jefferson said years later, 'has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be.' He 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."
But today, many of us take our legacy of religious liberty for granted -- like the air we breathe, it has always been abundant.
Thanks to the faith, vision, wisdom, and courage of the Pilgrims, our Founding Fathers, and others, America is a beacon of hope for countless immigrants who have fled to her shores because they longed for the freedom to worship God as they believed was best.
Lately, as our rights have been questioned, it's more important than ever for us to appreciate the sacrifices so many have made to preserve religious freedom in America, and to take our turn to protect and pass on this noble heritage.
- Religion is Essential for Freedom (Clayton Christensen - 1:39)
- The Importance of Religion in America (Ronald Reagan - 15:17)
- The Genius of Thomas Jefferson (David McCullough - 9:20)
- Goodness and Religion Are Essential for Liberty (Quotes)
"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” ~George Washington
"Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our people, in a greater measure, than they have it now, they may change their rulers, and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.” ~John Adams
Fires of Faith
Fires of Faith is the story of the coming forth of the King James Bible. As we pause to give thanks for our rich legacy of religious liberty, we would be wise to remember the heroic men and women who made the Bible available to us in language we can understand. May their devotion to God, courage, and sacrifice inspire us to do our part to preserve the great legacy of religious freedom we have received.
"This intriguing three-part documentary series features more than 130 reenactments filmed in eight countries, with great care taken to represent the scenes with visual and historical accuracy. Commentary from 18 international scholars and religious leaders tells the story of one of the greatest committee efforts in history, resulting in the most influential and enduring book the Western world has ever seen."
Yearning for the Word (51:55)
Discover the history of the English Reformation and learn about the roles Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and King Henry VIII had in its development.
Martyrs for a Book (51:57)
Gutenberg's revolutionary printing press aided the Protestant Reformation and sped up the printing of illegal Bibles being smuggled to England.
The King James Bible (53:15)
In 1604, England's King James orders a new translation of the Bible. Seven years, 54 scholars, and one of the greatest committee efforts in history result in the most widely used book ever written.