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Trump Administration Attacks First Amendment on National Religious Freedom Day

January 21, 2020

National Religious Freedom Day Statement by Acting President Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, January 16, 2020

National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the 1786 adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, drafted by Thomas Jefferson.  In this landmark legislation, which inspired the First Amendment to the US Constitution, Jefferson asserts that efforts to coerce the faith or conscience of others “tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness.”

It is just this sort of hypocrisy and meanness that we have seen from the Trump administration for the last three years. Time after time, we have seen President Trump advance his own interests by pandering to his ultraconservative cronies like the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by championing their anti-woman and anti-LGBT agenda to control the lives and moral decision making of Americans regardless of their faith.  From the ongoing work of the HHS’s so-called Conscience and Religious Freedom Division to the drive to reverse decades of civil rights and religious freedom protections to the most recent expansion of regulations that allow conservative faith-based organizations to deny the basic liberties of individuals, Trump and his extremist allies pervert the language of liberty and freedom to promote dangerous and discriminatory policies.

True religious freedom respects the rights of all—regardless of religious affiliation—and allows a multitude of beliefs to flourish. Our shared principle of religious liberty must include both the freedom of and the freedom from religion—the ability to believe and practice according to one’s conscience, as well as the freedom not to have another’s beliefs forced upon us. This fundamental value stands at the heart of our nation. It inspired the words of Thomas Jefferson—the words we remember today—and has continued to inspire Americans for more than two centuries.

We are deeply troubled by the thought that some might be persuaded to discard the core principles of our republic. Yet, we are inspired by the many people of faith who stand up for true religious liberty in our nation. Today, we celebrate all those who daily commit to fight for the rights and freedoms others—neighbors and strangers alike.