Today, we celebrate National Religious Freedom Day to commemorate this historic and consequential act.
As the father of the Constitution, James Madison fought tirelessly to ensure each individual’s right to religious freedom. An early draft of the Virginia state constitution stated, “All men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion.” Madison opposed this wording and fought successfully to replace “toleration in the exercise” with “free exercise.” While this difference in language may seem insignificant to most of us, Madison recognized the underlying implications. “Toleration” implied that the exercise of religion was a right granted by government, while “free exercise” recognized that such a right came from a higher power — and is therefore inalienable.
Our fourth president made sure to protect not only our freedom of religion, but also our freedom of conscience. Madison noted, “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” Furthermore, such “free exercise” meant more than expressing one’s beliefs in private — Madison fought for the right of everyone to have the “freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin.”
While we celebrate our nation’s great legacy, let’s take a score card of the past year. The same inalienable rights that were threatened in colonial Virginia are being trampled upon by our federal government today. Take, for instance, the HHS mandate. The mandate, which requires employers and institutions to pay for drugs and services in violation of their consciences, is nothing short of what Jefferson warned as “an infringement of natural right.” It is precisely what the statute we are commemorating today sought to protect us from more than two centuries ago.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment