Tuesday marked the US celebration of National Religious Freedom Day. President Donald J. Trump made the observance official in a signed proclamation this week.
“Religious freedom has shaped the history of the United States since our forefathers sought refuge from religious persecution. Federal recognition of Religious Freedom Day began with President George H. W. Bush in 1993, and presidents have generally signed a new proclamation every year since,” the White House said in a statement.
January 16 is the anniversary of the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom’s passage. Considered one of the foundational texts of a young America, the document outlined what principles constituted true respect by a government for freedom of religion. “All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities,” wrote its author, Thomas Jefferson.
The Virginia statute served as a model in many ways for the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which followed a few years later with its familiar words, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
According to the White House, in that spirit, Religious Freedom Day is a moment to celebrate and fight to protect religious freedom in America and around the world. “We will continue to condemn and combat extremism, terrorism, and violence against people of faith, including genocide waged by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria against Yezidis, Christians, and Shia Muslims,” President Trump writes in this year’s proclamation.
The White House said President Trump’s proclamation is a reminder that civic participation and religious observance shouldn’t be opposing forces. “The free exercise of religion is a source of personal and national stability,” the proclamation reads.