WASHINGTON (ABP) – President Obama described religious liberty as a “universal human right” Jan. 13 and pledged support for individuals around the world “who live in fear of violence and discrimination because of their beliefs.”
Proclaiming Jan. 16 as Religious Freedom Day, 2012, the president said the United States is committed to religious freedom not just for Americans, but for individuals around the world.
“Internationally, we bear witness to those who live in fear of violence and discrimination because of their beliefs,” the president’s proclamation read. “My administration continues to stand with all who are denied the ability to choose, express, or live their faith freely, and we remain dedicated to protecting this universal human right and the vital role it plays in ensuring peace and stability for all nations.”
National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly's adoption of Thomas Jefferson's landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on Jan. 16, 1786. The document became the basis for the First Amendment’s ban on establishment of religion.
The president said the statute’s opening statement, "Almighty God hath created the mind free,” has helped preserve religious freedom for both believers and non-believers for more than 220 years.
“As our nation has grown, so too has its diversity of faiths, cultures and traditions,” the president stated. “Today, individuals of rich and varied beliefs call America home and seek to follow their consciences in peace.
“Our long history of religious tolerance and pluralism has strengthened our country, helped create a vibrant civil society, and remained true to the principles enshrined in our founding documents.”
National Freedom of Religion Day has been designated by presidential proclamation every year since 1996
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.