For many of us, the Christmas decorations have only recently been boxed up and taken to the attic. Perhaps we’re still thinking about what the New Year will bring or our latest resolutions. Yet sometimes, it is the lesser known days of national reflection and celebration that represent the greatest moments and deserve the deepest appreciation.
In what Thomas Jefferson would describe as one of his greatest accomplishments, even rivaling the Declaration of Independence, he was instrumental in passing the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1786, “that 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.” This landmark legislation was a forerunner document and later influenced the federal Bill of Rights and the First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing religious freedom for all citizens.
Beginning in 1993, January 16th of each year has been set aside to recognize and celebrate one of the most sacred rights in our nation’s history. In declaring this to be Religious Freedom Day, the President calls upon all Americans to, “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools and places of worship.” May we each stop, give pause and never take for granted that which our founders and forebears have fought and died for with such determination. Gateways for a Better Education created this helpful guidebook to help enlighten those in the education system about this important day.
This past Sunday, January 11th, we celebrated Religious Freedom Sunday, a day for clergy to remind their congregations all across the country that students—from preschool through twelfth grade—have clearly prescribed rights to express their faith at school. Three times since 1995, the U.S. Department of Education (under both the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations) has released specific guidelines defining a student’s religious freedoms; however, these constitutionally protected liberties have never been fully communicated and shared within most school environments. In fact, confused and frequently hostile secularists have hijacked the separation of church and state argument and fiercely attempt to impose a freedom from religion, rather than a freedom of religion.
Many would be surprised to know that students are free to pray, read their Bibles or other religious materials, discuss their beliefs at school, and organize prayer groups and religious clubs, as well as to express their faith in school assignments and at graduation ceremonies. Not only do our young people urgently need a civics lesson on this important issue, but so do most educators and school administrators. Religious Freedom Sunday is a joint initiative of Gateways to Better Education and the Alliance Defending Freedom, and typically precedes the nationwide recognition of Religious Freedom Day.
Why, you may ask, should Americans even have their attention called to the notion of Religious Freedom; after all, isn’t this the United States, “Land of the free and home of the brave?” We need look no further then local, national and international news and other media outlets. People, especially Christians, are being harassed, arrested, persecuted and even executed all across the world, simply for their public profession of faith.
Impossible in America you say? No…the sober truth is that history is replete with too many examples not to know better. We must continue to passionately raise our voices, fight for a seat within the public arena and the marketplace of ideas, vigorously defend our freedoms and never be ashamed of our faith.
From the beloved song, My Country Tis of Thee, penned in 1832 by Dr. Samuel Smith, comes the joyous words, “Let Freedom Ring!” The Pennsylvania State House bell, often referred to as the Liberty Bell, bears the timeless message: “Proclaim Liberty Throughout All the Land Unto All the Inhabitants thereof.” Thousands of years earlier in man’s history, God Himself proclaimed this same message to Moses (Lev. 25:10 NIV), and so we shall.