The Alliance for Universal Freedom of Religion (UFOR) is a group desiring to see freedom of religious choice adopted and practiced in every nation. We are sufficiently impressed by religious history that nations that establish any one faith as the "one and only" official national faith are potentially dangerous. It usually leads to the spiritually impoverishing road of restrictions at, or no freedom of choice in matters of faith. Universal religiosity is too large to be restricted to any one enforced faith for all.
We, therefore, hold freedom of choice of faith (or no faith) a personal, private right of every human being. No group, religion or nation has the right to infringe upon a person's conscience in this matter.
The many historical horrors of coercion of state established self-proclaimed, "one and only" faiths, play against the very principle of the universal brotherhood of all humans. We should learn about and respect the faiths of others. It has been demonstrated faiths grow best in an environment of Religious Freedom.
History of Religious Freedom Day
Back in Thomas Jefferson's day, before 1776, the United States had one official religion. It was the Anglican Church. We inherited that from our English forbearers. Our taxes were used to pay the Anglican clergy and an official marriage had to be from the Anglican faith.
In those days both Jefferson and James Madison saw a particular danger in this for the fledgling nation. They had several reasons for their concern.
With a growing multi-faith mix and the lessons of history in mind, Jefferson and Madison sought a better way to religious and political harmony. As Governor of Virginia, Jefferson introduced a statute for enactment that would disavow any one religion as the state religion and allow the people a free choice of faith (or no formal faith), i.e., Religious Freedom. He argued religion was a personal matter and it could not be dictated by government. Further his statute stated it was "sinful and tyrannical to compel a man to furnish contributions for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors".
Jefferson's statute was opposed. There were those who felt it should be only for those of the Christian faiths. Jefferson disagreed. He argued for religious freedom for all. He stood by his statute which included "within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindu, the infidel of every denomination".
The statute failed to pass. Several years went by with no results. When Jefferson became the U.S. Ambassador to France, Madison took up the gauntlet for religious freedom in Virginia. Then, with Madison at the helm and Jefferson in France, the statute was passed on January 16, 1786. Jefferson considered it one of the crowning achievements of his life. The birth of religious freedom had dawned for the United States through the State of Virginia.
The bill read, "Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or beliefs, but 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".
One year later, in 1787, the principle of Religious Freedom was made part of the First Amendment of the U.S. Bill of Rights. After several drafts, it was agreed that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".
In hindsight, as we see all the religious conflicts around the globe, we can truly appreciate the wisdom and perseverance of Jefferson and Madison. Today, so many nations with, or attempting to establish, a one state religion are finding themselves embroiled in one problem after another.
Today, thanks to the valiant efforts of the Council of America's First Freedom, and an assist from the UFOR, we celebrate January 16th with special events. The Alliance (UFOR) seeks to make Religious Freedom universal. It holds annual interfaith symposia in New York around January 16th.
Religious freedom is rooted in the essence of the idea of brotherhood / sisterhood. It is at the basic core of every faith. Humanity will find it most difficult to move forward without it. It's a great principle. We're proud of it. And, once a year, on January 16th, we celebrate it.
UFOR holds an annual Symposium to celebrate Religious Freedom Day around
January 16th. The panel is composed of prominent leaders of various faiths. The Symposia themes center on the Golden Rule as found in all faiths.
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"Religions are like rivers.