“RELIGIOUS FREEDOM DAY” is our national observance on January 16th celebrating America’s historic religious freedom (i.e. freedom of belief). It commemorates the day in 1786 when the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison was enacted.
Virginia’s landmark law separated religion from government and mandated no person “…shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever”. It provided the genesis for US Constitution (Article VI  and 1st Amendment) separation of religion and government (aka: church and state separation) established by the Founders and overwhelmingly supported by Americans today (Pew Research). Even Jesus reportedly separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).
Freedom of belief (religious or non-religious) is an original American liberty. It was also a basis for Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 proclaiming “…everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…” .
Beliefs are predominately determined by the family, geography and culture in which one happens to be born and raised. American children believe in Santa Claus, flying reindeer, elves, Easter bunnies, Halloween witches, tooth fairies, ghosts, angels, devils, gods, etc although they are not evidence based. They want and enjoy these beliefs which are by-products of childhood gullibility, imitation and obedience.
American adults cease believing in most childhood myths but many continue to believe in gods, angels and devils because they want to believe and some need to believe. Human comfort in belief is often preferred to validity. Religion prospers and profits by perpetuating these propensities. Other adults evolve to evidence based beliefs in science, nature, humanity, morality, etc.
World history confirms early civilizations created their own deities. Naturalist religions deified humans, animals, geographical features and elements. Egalitarian religions deified children, women and men. Matriarchal religions deified women and motherhood. Patriarchal religions deified only males. Humans created most gods in their own image. Biblical scripture even affirms “…each national group made its own gods…” (2 Kings 17:29). Renaissance Philosopher Michel de Montaigne advised “Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozens” (“Essays”, 1580).
The religious beliefs of America’s original discoverers and inhabitants, our indigenous people or Native Americans, consisted of animistic nature worship with animals and geographic features revered as spiritual essences. The next discoverers of America, Vikings/Norsemen, practiced polytheistic paganism with numerous deities.
The religion of later European immigrants to America included varieties of Christianity imported from the ancient Middle East by way of Rome. The majority of early American colonists left Europe for religious freedom. When independence was declared in 1776 less than 20% of colonists belonged to religion establishments. Today, less than 50% of Americans are members of churches, synagogues or mosques (Gallup) and 1/3 of Americans are non-religious “Nones” (Pew Research).
Most of America’s principal founders were not orthodox Christians. Many were Deists (e.g. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen and Joel Barlow). Some were Unitarians (e.g. John Adams and John Quincy Adams). Only a few were orthodox Christians (e.g. Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry).
Religious belief uniformity does not exist. World Christian Encyclopedia records 10,000 distinct world religions with over 2,000 different American Christianities. “Religion” is derived from the Latin “religare” meaning “to bind (with rules)”. Most religions claim exclusive truth rejecting others. Murderous rejection is even mandated in religious scripture (Deuteronomy 13:6-10). American Philosopher Mark Twain observed “Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion – several of them.”
American religious freedom is a shield of protection providing the inalienable right guaranteed by the Constitution to determine, enjoy and practice one’s own religious or non-religious beliefs free from government favor or disfavor. It is never a sword of privilege to harm, discriminate against or impose religion on fellow Americans.
America is one of the most belief diverse nations in the world. It is our proud American heritage of individual freedom and the cornerstone of American liberties we must protect and preserve.
“Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship…the government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction…” – 1st President George WASHINGTON
“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions…shall enjoy equal liberty…we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” 2nd President John ADAMS
“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others…we are bound…to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience.” – 3rd President Thomas JEFFERSON
“…religion & Govt. will exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together…a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government…” – 4th President James MADISON
“We establish no religion in this country, church and state are, and must remain, separate.” – 40th President Ronald REAGAN (Republican)
“I support the separation of church and state.” – 41st President George H.W. BUSH (Republican)
“I fully understand it’s important to maintain the separation of church and state…It’s very important for people who are serving (in office) to make sure there’s a separation of church and state.” – 43rd President George W. BUSH (Republican)
“This is a nation founded on the idea of the separation of church and state. After 200 years, why the hell would you want to go messing with that?” – 46th President Joseph BIDEN (Democrat)
Brigadier General, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Army (Retired)
Former Chief Judge, US Army Court of Military Review and US Army Legal Services Agency
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation