“Ultimately, America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”
— Robert F. Kennedy (1925 – 1968)
American politician, US Senator, lawyer, and 64th US Attorney General
Observed annually in the US, Religious Freedom Day commemorates passage of a significant 1786 piece of legislation penned by Thomas Jefferson. The day promotes religious freedom and tolerance.
In the days of the 13 colonies, the faith of Britain’s appointed governor in each colony determined that colony’s official religion. Only white males of that governor’s religion could vote in that colony. In our fledgling nation, Jefferson fought against any such mandatory establishments of religion. Separation of Church and State was very clear. Leaders were expected to practice their religion, but not force it on their states. Everyone was to be able to practice their religion without discrimination or coercion.
And yet, trouble brewed in Virginia, which had been an Anglican colony. The new legislation settled that issue. Dissenters from the Anglican/Episcopal church in Virginia “would no longer suffer civil penalties for their religious beliefs. The precedent was set. Citizens could not be compelled to support any religious worship, place, or ministry.
However, Thomas Jefferson and the founding Fathers expected everyone to have and practice faith. In the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson referred to God three times… Nature’s God, Creator, and Divine Providence.
In 1954, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add “under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance. “In God We Trust” was added to all US currency in 1955 and became our national motto the next year.
Courts, both high and low, have affirmed and reaffirmed that such a national motto and its appearance on currency and federal buildings does not violate our separation of church and state, as it neither establishes nor endorses a specific religion.