WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission joins all Americans in commemorating Religious Freedom Day. The Commission is mindful of the great sacrifices made by men and women of faith in the centuries past to secure this universal right for all people. We urge all Americans to celebrate the freedom for religion enjoyed in the United States, as well as to strive for its protection here and promote its acceptance throughout the world.
President George W. Bush, following an annual presidential tradition begun in 1993, proclaimed January 16 as Religious Freedom Day in honor of the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which served as a forerunner to the right to freedom of worship in the Bill of Rights. The statute, authored by Thomas Jefferson, declared that each person should be able to worship as he so chooses, without compulsion or fear of suffering. Jefferson recognized that religious freedoms “are of the natural rights of mankind” given by God, not man.
Dr. Richard Land, president of the ERLC, commented on the importance of Religious Freedom Day.
“As our Baptist forefather Roger Williams explained, a man’s relationship with his God is so sacred that no human entity, king, or government has the right to coercively intrude himself into that relationship,” he said. “Any attempt by government to do so is ‘soul rape.’”
Bush sent a strong message of support for religious freedom by issuing the proclamation from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a Muslim region whose government regularly denies its citizens freedom of worship.
“I call on all Americans to reflect on the great blessing of religious liberty, endeavor to preserve this freedom for future generations, and commemorate this day with appropriate events and activities,” Bush declared in the Jan. 14 White House release.
Dr. Land expressed his appreciation of President Bush’s unwavering commitment to religious freedom both here and abroad.
The ERLC each year honors an individual who champions the cause of religious freedom with the John Leland Religious Liberty Award, named in honor of the Virginia Baptist preacher who helped ensure passage of constitutional protections for religious freedom through the First Amendment. The ERLC presented the award to Bush in 2006.
p(notes). The Southern Baptist Convention is America’s largest non-Catholic denomination with more than 16.3 million members in over 44,000 churches nationwide. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is the SBC’s ethics, religious liberty and public policy agency with offices in Nashville, Tenn., and Washington, D.C.