Liberty and Justice for All from Coalition for Liberty & Justice on Vimeo.
Next Monday, 16 January, will be the 231st anniversary of the Virginia Religious Freedom Statute. In commemoration of this event, the Coalition for Liberty and Justice (which produced the video at the head of the posting) and others are engaging in various actions to educate about the authentic meaning of religious freedom, a core value of the American democratic experiment that has been under attack in recent years by people using the term as a slogan to justify religion-based bigotry and religion-based attacks on minority communities struggling for their rights.
Today, tomorrow, and Thursday, CLJ is using Twitter to focus attention to the issue of religious liberty, in anticipation of the upcoming anniversary of the Virginia statute. On Friday, from 2-3 EST there will be a CLJ Twitterstorm involving group members and members of Congress — in which anyone who signs onto Twitter may participate at hashtag #ReligiousFreedomIs.
A quarter-millennium later, we are still struggling to defend religious freedom against erosion and assaults by powerful religious institutions and their agents inside and outside of government. Aspiring clerical aristocrats debase the idea of religious freedom when they use it as tool to seek exemptions from the generally applicable laws of the United States—particularly those that prohibit discrimination.
Religious freedom and civil rights are complementary values and legal principles necessary to sustain and advance equality for all. Like Rev. Barber, we must not fall for the ancient tactic of allowing the kings, nobles and priests of our time to divide and set us against one another.
We have come a long way since the revolutionaries who founded our country introduced one of the most powerfully democratic ideas in the history of the world. The struggle for religious freedom may never be complete, but it remains among our highest aspirations. And yet the kinds of forces that struggled both for and against religious freedom in the 18th Century are similar to those camps today. We are the rightful heirs of the constitutional legacy of religious freedom; the way is clear for us to find our voices and reclaim our role.
In that project of dismantling liberal democracy that is now underway in many places in the world including the U.S., we can expect to hear the terms "religious freedom" and "religious liberty" bandied about by theocratic supporters of the project, who are eager to see liberal democracy eradicated because of the restrictions it has placed on religious bodies seeking to use religious beliefs as a basis for denying human rights to minority groups. In defending religious liberty in its authentic sense, as understood by the founders of the American republic, we're defending a core democratic value against powerful forces intent on turning the concept of religious liberty on its head to defend what cannot be defended by anyone who understands the meaning of this term.