WASHINGTON – Today, January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, an observance that marks the passage, in 1786, of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. The United States was founded by people fleeing religious persecution, and the Founders took great care to protect the freedom to practice their faith, as well as the freedom to practice a different faith or no faith at all.
Thomas Jefferson was determined that the United States would not be considered a “Christian nation.” But today, Donald Trump and his allies and enablers on the religious right want to perpetuate a completely opposite point of view. They sanction a state-sponsored religion that squelches freedom of speech and tramples on civil liberties. And they use taxpayer money to deny women health care, discriminate against LGBTQIA+ individuals and withhold birth control, emergency contraception and access to legal abortion on so-called religious grounds.
We observe Religious Freedom Day by recognizing that women are at grave risk from those who are using their personal religious views to discriminate against women. They not only deny women birth control and access to abortion care, but they also divert them towards fake crisis pregnancy centers and hold them back from economic advancement with jobs that oppress them, put them at risk of sexual harassment and abuse, and perpetuate a culture of submission.
The religious right is not defending religious liberty—they are hijacking it to justify further discrimination. On Religious Freedom Day, we reaffirm our commitment to a nation that respects religious differences, the nation’s secular democracy, and rejects using religion to score political points or prop up a failed ideology.