WASHINGTON — Religious freedom is innate and must be protected, U.S. President Donald Trump said in his proclamation for Religious Freedom Day, which was observed Wednesday.
“On Religious Freedom Day, we celebrate our nation’s long-standing commitment to freedom of conscience and the freedom to profess one’s own faith,” Trump said in his proclamation for the Jan. 16 observance. “The right to religious freedom is innate to the dignity of every human person and is foundational to the pursuit of truth.”
He said many of America’s settlers, including the Pilgrims, “fled their home countries to escape religious persecution. Aware of this history, our nation’s Founding Fathers readily understood that a just government must respect the deep yearning for truth and openness to the transcendent that are part of the human spirit. For this reason, from the beginning, our constitutional republic has endeavored to protect a robust understanding of religious freedom.”
Trump noted that Virginia enacted a Statute for Religious Freedom Jan. 16, 1786, “to protect the right of individual conscience and religious exercise and to prohibit the compulsory support of any church.”
The statute “set forth the principle that religious liberty is an inherent right and not a gift of the state” and was the model for religious-freedom clauses of the First Amendment, the president stated.
“Unfortunately, the fundamental human right to religious freedom is under attack,” he said. “Efforts to circumscribe religious freedom — or to separate it from adjoining civil liberties, like property rights or free speech — are on the rise.”
Trump added that legislative attacks on religious liberty “have given way to actual violence,” citing the October 2018 attack on a synagogue in Pittsburgh and saying that “attacks on people of faith and their houses of worship have increased in frequency in recent years.”
He said his administration is acting “to protect religious liberty and to seek justice against those who seek to abridge it.”
The president noted that the Department of Justice “is aggressively prosecuting those who use violence or threats to interfere with the religious freedom of their fellow Americans”; last January the department raised the profile of religious-liberty cases in its “Justice Manual,” and the Health and Human Services Department adopted more robust conscience-protection regulations.
Trump also noted international religious-freedom problems, saying his secretary of state convened a “Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom” in July 2018 to “[listen] to the voices of those risking their lives for their religious beliefs and … to the families of people who have died fighting for their fundamental right of conscience.”
“Our nation was founded on the premise that a just government abides by the ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.’ As the Founders recognized, the Constitution protects religious freedom to secure the rights endowed to man by his very nature,” he concluded.
“On this day, we recognize this history and affirm our commitment to the preservation of religious freedom.”