Future of Religion and Diplomacy

Events

Jan
16
Sat
National Religious Freedom Day
Jan 16 all-day

The National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the Virginia General Assembly’s adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s landmark, “Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” on January 16, 1786.

After numerous delays and revisions, as well as nine years of political debate, James Madison successfully convinced the Virginia legislature to pass Jefferson’s bill, which Governor Patrick Henry signed into law. As revised by the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom reinforced the shared belief that freedom of religion was both an inalienable right and a civil right. The role of a civil government, led by limited and fallible citizens, is to guarantee equality in access to public office and interfere with religion only when overt acts threaten peace and good order.

Even in this early documents, Virginia distinguished between the freedom to believe and the freedom to act on religious beliefs. A civil authority can regulate some religiously motivated behavior, but the authority must recognize its own limitations.

As noted below, Jefferson warned civil magistrates against making their own opinions the test for regulating religious behavior because, in doing so, the law would depend on their approval or condemnation of religions that conformed with or contradicted their own. The remedy was, therefore, to neither punish, burden, nor deprive legal standing to any citizen because of their religious beliefs, nor was it to compel citizens to frequent or support religion. Specific to the discussion of the rights of agents of the state, Jefferson’s bill, as amended, made clear that one’s religious beliefs do not “diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”

The last segment of the bill recognized the limitations of their own legislative actions and warns future agents that by revoking this particular law, they would infringe on the ordained, natural right to citizens’ free exercise of religion. This politically charged conclusion gives us today an indication of the importance that these framers gave to religious liberty.


The text from the “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” (June 18, 1779)

A Bill for the Establishment of Religious Freedom


 

WELL aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint:

  • That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone;
  • That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time:
  • That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical;
  • That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;
  • That our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry;
  • That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right;
  • That it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it;
  • That though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;
  • That the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction;
  • That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous falacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;
  • That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;
  • And finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.

WE the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; 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.

AND though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act11 irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.


 

 

Feb
13
Tue
Webinar: Religious Studies and Journalism
Feb 13 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

The Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute invites you to attend our February webinar, Religious Studies and Journalism: Promising Venues for Public Scholarship. We will discuss how scholars of religion can engage different publics through print and online journalism, both by communicating effectively with members of the media and producing original content. We are pleased to host co-presenters Debra Mason, Janet Saidi, and Inés San Martín. The webinar will include a presentation and extended Q&A.

February 13, 2018
12 – 1 p.m. EST

RSVP >

CO-PRESENTERS

Debra Mason is among the leading experts on how religion is portrayed in the media. She brings more than 30 years of professional and scholarly experience to her position as director of the Center on Religion and the Professions, an interdisciplinary center at the world-renown Missouri School of Journalism that works to improve the religious literacy of professionals so they can better serve a multi-faith public. In addition, she has produced the largest repository of religion resources for journalists, including ReligionStylebook.com and ReligionLink.com. Since 1997, she’s also directed the Religion Newswriters Association, a professional association of journalists writing about religion in the mass media. She is publisher emeritus of Religion News Service (RNS), the world’s only non-sectarian wire service exclusively covering religion.

Janet Saidi is a freelance writer, producer and teacher in Columbia, Mo., working with print and public broadcasting and teaching at the Missouri School of Journalism. Janet recently served as vice president of news at Kansas City Public Television, leading a team of multi-platform journalists and launching KCPT’s digital magazine FlatlandKC. Before that Janet spent eight years at the Missouri School of Journalism directing the newsroom at NPR-affiliate KBIA Radio. Janet has written and produced stories for National Public Radio, PBS, the BBC and BBC World Service, Wired magazine and the Los Angeles Times, and in her spare time she writes book reviews for the Christian Science Monitor. Janet lived for several years in England, where she earned a master’s in literature from University College, London.

Inés San Martín is an Argentinean journalist who covers the Vatican in Rome for Crux. Before joining Crux, Inés was a community manager, content director, and graphic designer for Contá con Nosotros, and worked as a reporter and editor for Valores Religiosos in Buenos Aires. She managed the international press office for World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro in 2013. Inés holds a bachelor’s degree in social communications and journalism from Universidad Austral in Buenos Aires and Universidad de Navarra in Pamplona, Spain.

ABOUT THE WEBINAR SERIES

This webinar is hosted by the Public Scholars Project, a joint initiative of the Public Understanding of Religion Committee of the American Academy of Religion and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute. The Public Scholars Project created this webinar series to help scholars hone their skills at communicating with a variety of publics. Our webinars feature scholars and practitioners who can provide tools, resources, and recommendations for presenting in a variety of settings (e.g., social media, news, public events, community gatherings) about a range of topics. To view the complete webinar schedule for the 2017-18 academic year, please visit our webpage.

Mar
14
Wed
Islam & America: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public (Free Webinar)
Mar 14 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm

We will discuss how scholars of Islam and American public life can engage different publics to raise the visibility of their work. We are pleased to host co-presenters Dalia Mogahed, Director of Research at ISPU, Najeeba Syeed, Associate Professor of Interreligious Education at Claremont School of Theology, and Asma Uddin, Fellow with the Initiative on Security and Religious Freedom at the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations. The webinar will include a presentation and extended Q&A.

Sep
12
Wed
Religion and Immigration: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public @ Zoom videoconference room
Sep 12 @ 12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Religion and Immigration: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public @ Zoom videoconference room

The Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute invites you to attend our September webinar, Religion and Immigration: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public. We will discuss how scholars of religion and immigration can engage different publics to raise the visibility of their work. We are pleased to host co-presenters Jennie Bell, faith community organizer for the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Program, Sylvia Chan-Malik, associate professor at Rutgers, and Janelle Wong, professor at the University of Maryland. The webinar will include a presentation and extended Q&A.

The Public Scholars Project is a joint initiative of the American Academy of Religion and the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute.