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Since our country's founding, religious freedom has been
heralded as one of our most cherished ideals. 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. Some of America's earliest settlers, the
Pilgrims, arrived at our shores in search of a more tolerant
society, free from religious persecution. Since that time,
people of many religious traditions have added their own threads
to the fabric of our Nation, helping advance a profound and
continuous vindication of the idea of America.
When the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted
on January 16, 1786, it formed a blueprint for what would become
the basis for the protection of religious liberty enshrined in
our Constitution. Drafted by Thomas Jefferson, the statute
proclaims that "all men shall be free to profess, and by
argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion,
and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect
their civil capacities." The First Amendment prohibits
Government from establishing religion, and it protects the free
exercise of every faith. Our Government does not sponsor a
religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular
faith, or any faith at all. The United States stands for the
protection of equal rights for all people to practice their
faith freely, without fear or coercion, and as Americans, we
understand that when people of all religions are accepted and
are full and equal members of our society, we are all stronger
and freer.
Our commitment to religious freedom has fostered
unprecedented religious diversity and freedom of religious
practice. But these ideals are not self-executing. Rather,
they require a sustained commitment by each generation to uphold
and preserve them. Here at home, my 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. We will keep
upholding the right of religious communities to establish places
of worship and protecting the religious rights of those so
often forgotten by society, such as incarcerated persons and
individuals confined to institutions. 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. 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.
As we strive to uphold religious freedom at home, we
recognize that this basic element of human dignity does not
stop at our shores, and we work to promote religious freedom
around the globe. We are working with a broad coalition against
those who have subjected religious minorities to unspeakable
violence and persecution, and we are mobilizing religious and
civic leaders to defend vulnerable religious communities.
In addition, we are calling for the elimination of improper
restrictions that suppress religious practice, coordinating with
governments around the world to promote religious freedom for
citizens of every faith, and expanding training for our
diplomats on how to monitor and advocate for this freedom.
All people deserve the fundamental dignity of practicing their
faith free from fear, intimidation, and violence.
On Religious Freedom Day, let us recommit ourselves to
protecting religious minorities here at home and around the
world. May we remember those who have been persecuted,
tortured, or murdered for their faith and reject any politics
that targets people because of their religion, including any
suggestion that our laws, policies, or practices should single
out certain faiths for disfavored treatment. And as one Nation,
let us state clearly and without equivocation that an attack on
any faith is an attack on every faith and come together to
promote religious freedom for all.
United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in
me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do
hereby proclaim January 16, 2016 as Religious Freedom Day.
I call on all Americans to commemorate this day with events and
activities that teach us about this critical foundation of our
Nation's liberty, and that show us how we can protect it for
future generations at home and around the world.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this
fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord
two thousand sixteen, and of the Independence of the
United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.