With the exception of only two years, each President since 1993 has issued a Presidential Proclamation declaring the 26th of January “Religious Freedom Day.”
According to ReligousFreedomDay.com, “the goal of Religious Freedom Day is to promote and protect students’ religious expression rights by informing educators, parents, and students about these liberties.” ReligiousFreedomDay.com goes on to detail some of the history surrounding this special commemorative day:
Each year, the President declares January 16th to be Religious Freedom Day, and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” The day is the anniversary of the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. We encourage schools to recognize Religious Freedom Day during the school week leading up to January 16.
Religious Freedom Day is an excellent time to bring clarity about freedom of expression to public school students, teachers, administrators, and parents. I encourage adults and students to celebrate their religious liberty by recognizing this special day.
Some of the more encouraging and notable excerpts from President Obama’s 2017 Religious Freedom Day Presidential Proclamation are:
“Believing that “Almighty God hath created the mind free,” Thomas Jefferson authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom after our young Nation declared its independence. This idea of religious liberty later became a foundation for the First Amendment, which begins by stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Religious freedom is a principle based not on shared ancestry, culture, ethnicity, or faith but on a shared commitment to liberty — and it lies at the very heart of who we are as Americans.
Today, we must also remember those outside the United States who are persecuted for their faith or beliefs, including those who have lost their lives in attacks on sacred places. Religious liberty is more than a cornerstone of American life — it is a universal and inalienable right — and as members of a global community, we must strive to ensure that all people can enjoy that right in peace and security.
America has changed a great deal since Thomas Jefferson first drafted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, but religious liberty is a right we must never stop striving to uphold. Today, let us work to protect that precious right and ensure all people are able to go about their day in safety and with dignity — without living in fear of violence or intimidation — in our time and for generations to come.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2017, as Religious Freedom Day. I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our Nation’s liberty, and that show us how we can protect it for future generations at home and around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand seventeen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-first.”
Gateways to Better Education, the Association of American Educators, The Beckett Fund, Council for America’s First Freedom (Valentine), Institute on Religion & Democracy, and The Providence Forum are all members of the Religious Freedom Day Coalition and issued the following Joint Statement of the Religious Freedom Day Coalition:
We join the President in recognizing January 16 as Religious Freedom Day and urge people in their homes, schools, and places of worship to celebrate the religious freedom we have in America. Specifically, we call upon America’s public schools, to honor of this day by acting on the request of the U.S. Department of Education by distributing its guidelines clarifying students’ religious freedom. We look forward to the day when every school administrator, educator, parent, and student is fully informed of religious liberty on campus and schools promote and honor those freedoms in their classrooms, hallways, playgrounds, and cafeterias.
We applaud and thank President Obama for acknowledging that the “free exercise of religion” is the bedrock of the First Amendment, and indeed all our rights. We further pray that he, his successor, and all politicians would recognize and affirm this inalienable right for all Americans.
Read President Obama’s 2017 Religious Freedom Day Proclamation in its entirety.