National Religious Freedom Day: A Reflection

Most of us don’t remember National Religious Freedom Day (January 16). I know I forget about that date.

A friend told me there is now a “Day of _____” for every day of the year. I didn’t do a fact check, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that was true.

We have just had several important days celebrating and promoting some very significant issues in our nation.

Monday, January 18, was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—a national holiday that points to the importance of MLK for our nation’s history. Over the years, I have read many books about MLK and many of his speeches as well. MLK and the way he spoke about race, freedom, and justice must always be advanced.

Sunday, January 17, was Sanctity of Life Sunday—a day celebrated by some, but not by all. It is an ideal that is core to our Constitution—life, liberty, and the pursuit of freedom—that many do not experience.

Saturday, January 16, was National Religious Freedom Day, which was established in 1993, voted on unanimously in the House, and 97-3 in the Senate, and then signed into law by President Clinton.

January 16 was chosen because of Thomas Jefferson and the State of Virginia’s decisions on January 16, 1786 to promote freedom of religion in their state.

The First Amendment to our Constitution (Bill of Rights) says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

or abridging the freedom of speech,

or of the press;

or the right of the people peaceably to assemble,

and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I highlighted the word peaceably because that is the violation of the First Amendment clause that happened in our nation’s capitol the other week. And the lack of peace is what brought immediate and justifiable consequences on any violent protestors.

There is a long and complex relationship of church and state in the United States, but at the core of that relationship is freedom of religion. The state cannot forbid religion, nor can the state promote a religion.

If you want to read a very good and accessible work by a noted historian, read American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meacham.

Meacham is clear that America was profoundly religious and partially Christian. The founders, the first political leaders and the majority of writers of our Constitution, were religious and only “generically” Christian, more deistic in their faith. But they recognized the centrality of religious faith that connects people with a transcendent God who has a will and a way, which includes the VIRTUE needed for a representative democracy.

That is what the First Amendment supports—freedom of religion for all, and no establishment of a particular religion or denomination. And then the freedom to speak, preach, teach, and lobby for particular religious values and convictions as believers feel is right. Of course, my religious faith is that of following Jesus Christ.

I am so grateful be an American citizen for many reasons. The freedoms of the First Amendment are among those reasons.

I do NOT take them for granted.

I do NOT assume they will be uncontested in our future.

I DO believe that different extreme groups (some of them) would really prefer that their opposites (or opponents) NOT have freedom of speech (see the political cartoon earlier in the post). That is a tension inherent in our representative democracy. Everyone has a voice, everyone has a vote, even if you personally don’t like their voice and vote or they don’t like your voice and vote!

Because we do not know how to debate with wisdom and civility, we argue/shout with anger and animosity. We have forgotten Lincoln’s beautiful words, “With malice toward none, with charity for all . . .” When that is forgotten, “might makes right” is practiced.

I DO believe those who value First Amendment freedoms need to do due diligence as citizens about them.

I DO believe there are those who would seek to limit religious freedom in a way that would be harmful to the future of Christianity.

I PRAY this does not happen.

I need to do my CIVIC DUTY in a way to ensure this does not happen.

And the very fact that I can share this blog post is freedom of speech.

Our nation faces immense challenges. May we find the resources of faith, hope, and love; courage, fortitude, and resilience; civility and respect; and, most of all, Christ-likeness. We already know what happens when we cannot do that.

Pastor Brian Rice

Here is the book I referenced above.

If you have not read the Constitution in the last year, you can access it here:
Constitution of the United States.

Brian Rice
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