This National Religious Freedom Day marks the 237th anniversary of the signing of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. Under the Virginia Statute authored by Thomas Jefferson, legislators for the first time endorsed the principles of freedom of conscience and separation of church and state. Several years later, the Virginia Statute became the template for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. A century and a half after that, it helped to inspire Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Every person, everywhere has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and belief, including the freedom to change their beliefs or not believe. Each person also has the freedom, either individually or in community with others, in public or private, to manifest those beliefs in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.
On this day, we call attention to people around the world who are harassed, detained, imprisoned, or even killed for expressing their beliefs. Countries flourish when they effectively safeguard freedom of religion or belief and other human rights. They are more peaceful, stable, prosperous, and more reliable partners of the United States than those that do not.
The United States will continue to advocate for individuals’ ability to live in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and speak out on behalf of those who have been denied the ability to do so. On National Religious Freedom Day, we renew our resolve to champion this right for all people around the world.