Last month we celebrated Religious Freedom Day, commemorating the day in 1786 when the Virginia General Assembly adopted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The statute was authored by Thomas Jefferson and was later used as the basis for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees and protects religious freedom, along with other key liberties.
President Trump issued a presidential proclamation acknowledging the importance of the observation and celebration of religious freedom. The proclamation stated in part:
Since I took office, my Administration has been committed to protecting religious liberty. In May 2017, I signed an Executive Order to advance religious freedom for individuals and institutions, and I stopped the Johnson Amendment from interfering with pastors’ right to speak their minds. Over the last 3 years, the Department of Justice has obtained 14 convictions in cases involving attacks or threats against places of worship. To fight the rise of anti-Semitism in our country, I signed an Executive Order last month to ensure that Federal agencies are using nondiscrimination authorities to combat this venomous bigotry. I have also made clear that my Administration will not tolerate the violation of any American’s ability to worship freely and openly and to live as his or her faith commands.
President Trump also took time within his day to hold a meeting within the Oval Office with students, teachers, coaches, and etc. who have experienced persecution because of their faith. He also criticized those on the far left that seek to “punish, restrict and even prohibit religious expression.”
There’s more. Nine federal departments today issued rules rolling back regulations that restrict religious liberty. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services, a vast bureaucracy responsible for a myriad of federal grant programs, issued new rules today eliminating barriers and discriminatory burdens against faith-based organizations.
The administration is also reminding states that, according to recent Supreme Court precedent, they cannot discriminate against religious institutions when awarding grants solely because the group applying is a church or faith-based school.
Perhaps most significantly, the Department of Education announced that it is taking a series of actions to protect the First Amendment rights of students, student organizations and religious schools.
Faith-based individuals and organizations deserve the same right to expression as secular groups.