WASHINGTON — As Saturday marked the 23rd annual Religious Freedom Day, Barack Obama released a statement recognizing the religious rights of Americans, while some Christian leaders expressed concern over the Obama administration’s infringements upon religious rights.
Religious Freedom Day, first proclaimed nationally in 1993, is based on the enactment of the 1786 Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom. The law was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and became an influence in the crafting of the First Amendment.
The Virginia Statute declared in part that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.”
“Since our country’s founding, religious freedom has been heralded as one of our most cherished ideals,” Obama said in his proclamation.
“The right to practice religion freely has brought immigrants from all over the world to our shores, often in the face of great adversity, so they could live their lives in accordance with the dictates of their consciences,” he continued. “Some of America’s earliest settlers, the Pilgrims, arrived at our shores in search of a more tolerant society, free from religious persecution.”
Obama said that the White House has been working to protect the freedoms of Americans of all religions, and vowed to continue to do so.
“[M]y Administration is working to preserve religious liberty and enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom—including laws that protect employees from religious discrimination and require reasonable accommodation of religious practices on the job,” he stated.
“We will also continue to protect students from discrimination and harassment that is based on their faith, and we will continue to enforce hate crime laws, including those perpetrated based on a person’s actual or perceived religion,” Obama continued. “This work is crucial, particularly given the recent spike in reports of threats and violence against houses of worship, children, and adults simply because of their religious affiliation.”
But some pointed out the irony of Obama’s proclamation in light of his administration’s actions in recent years. Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis said that Saturday could have instead been dubbed “Religious Erosion Day.”
“Sadly, Christians are increasingly being punished for standing on God’s word and living according to our beliefs based on the Bible. We’re seeing this happen over and over again—usually in regard to gay ‘marriage’ and the sanctity of life,” he wrote in a blog post. “Christians are being forced to affirm gay ‘marriages,’ and Christian organizations and companies are being told they better provide abortion services and medical insurance that includes abortive contraceptives and even abortion—or else!”
“In a recent address Obama even said that gay ‘marriage’ trumps religious freedom!” Ham stated. “He doesn’t really support religious freedom for everyone—he supports his own definition of freedom, one that increasingly excludes Bible-believing Christians from these protections and imposes an anti-God religion on the culture.”
But he exhorted Christians to be thankful for the liberties that we still have and to not neglect to obey Christ’s command to be salt and light in our nation.
“As Christians, we need to be bold in standing on God’s word, refusing to compromise with our increasingly secular culture. We need to be salt and light, spreading the message of the good news of the gospel to this world—this is what will change hearts and minds for now and eternity,” Ham declared. “We are free from the burden of our sin and death (Romans 6:22) because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. And that is true freedom that can never be taken away by any government or legislature!”