It passed by without much fanfare…no one that I know of was celebrating. We take for granted our ability to worship whenever, wherever and with whomever we want. Yesterday (January 16) was Religious Freedom Day in the U.S., commemorating anniversary of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson wrote the statute that was passed by the state assembly in 1786. Included in the statute were these words:
“no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened [burdened] in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion.”
John Leland, a Baptist evangelist in Virginia, was responsible for leading Baptists to be early supporters of this act. Later, when Virginia Baptists learned that the U.S. Constitution provided no guarantee of religious freedom, they protested. Leland pressured lawmakers into including religious freedom and freedom of the press into the Constitution. The freedom of the press was a critical component of this legislation since some advocating for religious freedom had been imprisoned because of their publications. Several years later, the Bill of Rights was ratified by our new nation and the freedom of religion was ensured by the First Amendment:
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.
Having come from countries in which “state” religion placed limits on the rights to assemble for worship, preach and express religious dissent, our forefathers knew that it was incumbent upon them to secure these rights. It is equally critical for us to continue to fight for the preservation of these rights as a secular society tries to marginalize and silence the voice of modern day dissenters. We need to pray for those who oppose recent legislation that contradicts religiously held values (i.e., Christian owned companies compelled provide coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in its healthcare plan). We must continue to be the voice for the voiceless (the unborn) as they have been deemed expendable by a Supreme Court ruling. We must continue to speak up for the sanctity of marriage and the biblical ideal of a one man/one woman, lifelong commitment.
Because we do take our religious freedoms for granted, we are becoming more in danger of losing them. Failure for us to preserve these rights may one day cause us to fall into the intolerant mode of state that either sponsors one religion (a mode into which Egypt has quickly moved, imprisoning Christian converts) or one that prohibits any expression of faith.
POINTS TO PONDER:
- In what ways does religious freedom impact your daily life?
- What are some of the challenges you have experienced in the exercise of your religion?
- What are you doing (or think you should do) to preserve this freedom?
1 Hobby Lobby’s opposition to provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act is a potentially landmark case for the preservation of religious freedom, according to Rick Warren. See article HERE.
2 The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention keeps abreast of current legislation and cultural trends that are critical in maintaining our religious freedoms. HERE is an article “Remembering 40 Years of Abortion.” Beyond the issue of abortion, positions on human trafficking, euthanasia, defense of traditional marriage, and gun control are other topics that can be found at this site
3 Again, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission reports on challenges to this issue HERE and other places on its website.