Religious freedom resource planned by Becket Fund

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WASHINGTON – Each year, a presidential proclamation declares Jan. 16 a Religious Freedom Day, honoring a Virginia law written by Thomas Jefferson in 1786. 

The measure formed the basis for the religious freedom provision in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. To commemorate the 230th anniversary of the “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a nonprofit law firm, will set up Religious Freedom Restoration Act Central, a website resource to educate researchers, journalists and lawyers on a 1993 federal statute, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Americans celebrated the first Religious Freedom Day that same year.

“On this Religious Freedom Day, we celebrate the foundational rights in the Virginia Statute championed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that are enshrined in our Constitution and civil rights laws,” said Hannah Smith, senior counsel at the Becket Fund. The law firm defends clients from a wide variety of faiths on religious freedom issues.

The law, she said, “plays an essential role in protecting the religious minorities of our time.”

Even Jefferson found this to be one of his greatest achievements as he had the Virginia statute listed as such on his gravestone, along with the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia. The Massachusetts Constitution has similar protections for religious liberty.

The law firm’s website will highlight not only court decisions that have protected Native Americans, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, Santerias and Christians, but will also list news stories, legal publications, statistics and infographics.

Contact Kara Bettis at [email protected] or on Twitter @karabettis.