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Each year, the President declares Jan. 16 as “Religious Freedom Day,” and calls upon Americans to “observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.” The day is the anniversary of the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. Thomas Jefferson drafted the legislation and considered it one of his greatest achievements. It stopped the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of the local clergy, and it protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination.

The men who drafted the U.S. Constitution leaned heavily on Jefferson’s statute in establishing the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom.

The following is a paraphrased version of the original proclamation by Thomas Jefferson in 1786. This information is taken from the website, religiousfreedom.com:

“God created us to be free in our thinking. He is all-powerful, but He chose not to force us to obey Him. Throughout history, there have been people who have tried to force others to believe a certain way about God. Often times this has led to people being forced to believe what the ruler believed, even if it wasn’t really true. We don’t want that.

It also isn’t right to force people to give money to religions that they don’t believe. It is best to let people support the religion they believe is the best one. The government shouldn’t even force people to support the religion they do believe is right. Each person should be free to support his religion in the way he thinks is best.

The rights we have, as citizens, shouldn’t depend on which religion we follow. The government shouldn’t tell people that they cannot hold a public office like mayor, or governor, or president just because of their religious beliefs. If the government did that, it would only cause people to lie about their beliefs. They might say they believe this or that religion just to run for political office. Of course, it would be wrong for people to lie about their religious beliefs, but it would also be wrong for the government to tempt people to lie by saying that only people who believe a certain way can be in politics. The government’s job is to help keep a peaceful society, not to tell people what religion to follow.

Truth is a wonderful thing. Truth can defend itself if you just let it be told. People need to be free to talk about what they believe is the truth about God.

Because of all this, we, the leaders of the state of Virginia, have decided the government should not force anybody to follow a religion, nor should the government force anybody to pay money to support a religion. People should decide this for themselves. Also, the government shouldn’t hassle people because of the religion they follow. Instead, everybody should be free to follow, and talk about, their religion.

We know that we are elected by the people to make decisions for right now. We know that in the future some group of Virginia’s leaders may decide to change this law. If they did that, we want to say right now that would be wrong, because God created us to be free.”

Be grateful for our first amendment. Thank God that we live in a country where this freedom is a privilege. Remember our servicemen who are fighting to preserve this freedom for you and me.

This Week's Editorial:

By Helen Morris:

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