Achieving the Ideal: Celebrating Religious Freedom Day

Every year since 1994, the President of the United States proclaims January 16 as "Religious Freedom Day."

January 16th commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, the first legislative enactment in the history of the world to proclaim the fundamental importance of religious freedom. The Statute also played an important underlying role as a precursor to our Bill of Rights' constitutional protections for religious freedom.

Presidential proclamations of "Religious Freedom Day" typically praise not only the eighteenth century founders Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, but twentieth century Americans who promoted religious freedom through international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Freedom of belief and worship is not just a constitutional right; it is a fundamental human right. The UDHR establishes that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, stating:

[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Although the U.S. Constitution and human rights standards guarantee religious freedom to all, religious discrimination is still a problem in the United States. Jeremy Gunn, director of ACLU Program Freedom of Religion and Belief, writes that "[w]hile American laws do not discriminate against particular religions, and while most religious groups are free to practice, there are certain groups disproportionately subjected to unfavorable treatment by society and at times by public officials." One group that falls into this category is Muslim-Americans.


In the last few years, the U.S. has seen many attacks on religious freedom, particularly since the tragic events of 9/11. These attacks on religious freedom have hindered the ability of Muslim-Americans, Sikh-Americans, Arabs, and South Asians to give religiously-obligated charity, be free from discrimination at work, worship without fear, express their religious belief, associate with those who share their faith, and wear religious attire.

In Michigan this November, the ACLU Human Rights Program teamed with the ACLU of Michigan, Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, and other local organizations to host a workshop on the challenges of keeping one's faith in post-9/11 America due to religious and ethnic discrimination. One of the featured speakers was Jameelah Medina, an ACLU client who was forced to remove her hijab in a San Bernardino County, California jail. Jameelah's story is shared on YouTube and shows us that we have much farther to go in achieving the eighteenth century founders' goal of eliminating religious discrimination and combating intolerance on the grounds of religion or belief.

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While Religious Freedom Day recognizes America's role as an early world leader on religious freedom, the best way to honor America's contribution to religious freedom, however, is not only to celebrate what has been accomplished but to rededicate ourselves to achieving the ideal the Constitutional framers intended. The Obama administration must end religious discrimination, not perpetuate the wrongs that have tarnished America's reputation as a beacon of religious freedom especially in times of national emergency.

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I agree one hundred percent. In other recent news, I was disappointed to hear that many Mormons were persecuted for their church's stance on Proposition 8 in California. While I was against Prop 8, I think it is a shame that people vandalized Mormon-owned businesses and called for Mormons to resign from their jobs. There are many religious minorities that face discrimination in America today, and it is my prayer that we can try to include all of them, whether or not we agree with their theology, politics, dress, or whatever.


@ Austin, I totally agree. But thankfully, all of that negative attention towards Mormons was *not* orchestrated by the government and is being treated seriously by the authorities.


The most discriminated against group in our country are non-believers. Try running for any political office as an atheist and see how far you get.


There will come a time in America when Christians will be discriminated against. Indeed, I have even heard people on the far left, on the news, call Christians "dangerous right wing extremists". How about that--I'm dangerous!! I, who have never harmed anyone, who hate no one, have been lumped in with Neo-Nazis and Skinheads, as if there is no difference between me and them. Will the ACLU come to my, or other Christians', defense? I seriously doubt it.


all the religions suck in general, but christians are the worst they are the leeches of the modern society and they are the product of ignorance that in this case speaking in their language they are "shit" making this whole place smell...causing wars and supporting israel to kill innocent kids...where is their god that died for their sins...oh i forgot god is only in the christian side helping them to raise hell!



I so agree with you. I am a teacher
at a Muslim school where they have
their religious rights, but I am
asked to wear a scarf when we take
the students to prayer (twice a day
that interrupts their learning process).
I have to refrain from wearing jewelry
or nail polish also which is a part
of their religion. My religious rights
are also ignored when we are asked to
attend workshops on the weekends even
on Sundays - my worship day! Couldn't this be a lawsuit. It interferes with
my rghts as a woman too, because in
their religion women are suppressed
but we are in American and my rights
as a NON Muslim should not be suppressed! They also do not say
the pledge of Allegience at this
school but pray to Allah in the
morning assembly? And tell students
it is most honorable to DIE for

Any and all comments are welcome!


The UDHR establishes that religious freedom is a fundamental human right, stating:

[e]veryone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

But For now, Illinois' Moment of Silence law is out of commission
A federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, saying it crossed the line of separation of church and state. According to the Associated Press, Judge Robert Gettleman sided with the ACLU, who claimed the law was "a thinly disguised effort to bring religion into the schools."
Last I checked the schools are "public" private institutions. just because they recieve government funding doesn't mean the government owns the school system. My question is:
Where is this "line" of "seperation of church and state" anyway? Its not a law, its not in the constitution, so what is it? The State is not establising a religion here. They dont own the schools. And whats wrong with religion into the schools? It's everywhere where people are, right? We have religious freedom in this country...or do we really?


Dixie...I seriously believe that should you ever experience discrimination based on being a Christian, especially if that discrimination comes from the government, the ACLU will be there for you. Why would you think otherwise. I exclude any discrimination based on the government stopping you from trampling on the rights of others.

jimmey...I have found that most Christians, especially those in leadership positions do not follow the teachings of Christ.

diviaD...May I ask a few questions? What do you expect from a religious school other than teaching that their religion is the one and only? Which of your rights are being abridged? Does wearing a scarf, not wear nail polish, jewelry, interfere with your religious beliefs? If the parents are OK with taking time out for religious activities, who are you to say otherwise? If it makes the kids learn less, the price will be paid when they are unable to get good jobs or otherwise deal with the world as adults.

Talk to the ACLU. They might be able to provide guidance on how you deal with the problem of workshops interfering with your rights to practice your religion. They might also be able to help if the school is holding you back from promotion because you are a woman.

Suzanne Ito, ACLU

Dixie, please see for a summary of just some of the instances in which the ACLU has protected the rights of Christians.


Suzanne Ito - Thank you. I appreciated the summary.


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