Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Statute of Liberty

Tony Perkins
Family Research Council

If you've ever toured Monticello, then you know that Thomas Jefferson had very strong opinions about what his legacy should be. He wanted to be remembered as the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence and as the "father" of the University of Virginia. Both are inscribed on his tombstone, along with his second proudest achievement--authoring the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom.

That might surprise Americans today, who wrongly believe that our third President wanted to divorce the government of all religious expression. On the contrary, what Jefferson wrote in Fredericksburg some 230 years ago was such a groundbreaking defense of freedom that the men who drafted our Constitution relied on it for the framework of the First Amendment. "No nation," the third President said years later, "has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be." Thomas Jefferson understood then, as we do now, that religious freedom is fundamental to every other freedom on earth. Maybe that's why, despite all of his other accomplishments, Jefferson considered the statute one of his greatest legislative feats.

For 20 years, Americans have set aside this day to honor the tradition of liberty that sets our nation apart. In a world where three out of every four people live in regions hostile to faith, America is still one of the brightest lights on freedom's shore. But for how long, no one knows. Under this administration, Jefferson would barely recognize his country. The government, once the guardian of liberty, is now the aggressor. It tramples our consciences with health care mandates, silences our chaplains with radical marriage policy, and expels our pastors from public ceremonies. In four years, we have become a people afraid to pray, teach, practice medicine, or even manage a business without fear of government backlash. When President Obama recognizes Religious Freedom Day, as he did this morning, he is doing so as the leader of the most oppressive administration in American history.

"Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose," his proclamation states. Therein lays the problem. The Bill of Rights guarantees us the freedom of religion, which goes far beyond how we choose to worship to how we choose to live. This administration's tolerance of religion stops at the church's front doors. If the President and his administration truly agreed with Jefferson's view of religious freedom, there wouldn't be 110 plaintiffs fighting his administration for those very rights lost under ObamaCare. Like millions of other Americans, they are no longer free to embrace religion if it means opposing abortion. Under the administration's rules, men and women of faith are forced to provide life-destroying drugs--or face the consequences. Devout Christians like the owners of Hobby Lobby are facing penalties of almost $1.3 million a day. Thomas Jefferson would have considered this the worst kind of tyranny.

In the meantime, the President has not only hurt our nation but failed its friends. "[R]eligious liberty," he continues, "is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe." While families are being terrorized for their faith in many countries, leaders like Rep. Frank Wolf have begged the administration to get off the sidelines and defend the persecuted church. But if the President cannot recognize America's freedom, how can he fight for the world's? For now, the job is ours. "Enlighten the people," Thomas Jefferson said, "and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day." For more on the significance of this date, check out my op-ed on, Ken Blackwell's column in the American Thinker, and Chris Gacek's piece in the Washington Times.