Did you know that January 16th is Religious Freedom Day in the United States? Surprised?
Few people are aware of this important day because, unlike many in other parts of the world, Americans have long been blessed with abundant freedom to live and worship as we desire.
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.
An important foundation was laid for religious freedom when 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 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, 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,' 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, 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.
"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports.” ~George Washington
"Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." ~John Adams
"Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." ~Benjamin Franklin
"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