Future of Religion and Diplomacy


Due: Early decision applications for Spring 2016
Dec 15 @ 12:00 am – 12:00 am
Due: Early decision applications for Spring 2016 @ Washington | District of Columbia | United States

Early decision applications for the Spring 2016 semester must be received by midnight, Eastern time on December 15, 2015.

Due: All applications for Spring 2016
Jan 8 @ 12:00 am – 12:00 am
Due: All applications for Spring 2016 @ Washington | District of Columbia | United States

All applications for the Spring 2016 semester must be received by midnight, Eastern time on Friday, January 8th, 2016.

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.



Open House for Religious & Civic Leaders @ Newseum (Freedom Forum Entrance on Sixth Street)
Jun 1 @ 9:00 am – 10:30 am

Learn about scholarships and enrollment process in our First Amendment courses that equip religious and civic leaders to become constitutional specialists in issues of religion and public life. Meet current students. Hear from faculty and national experts. Enjoy a light breakfast. Take a free tour the Newseum.


  • Dr. Charles C. Haynes, Ph.D., M.T.S., vice president, Newseum Institute; founding director, Religious Freedom Center
  • Rev. Kristen Looney, M.Div., project director, Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute
  • Sabrina E. Dent, M.Div., education advisor, Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute
  • Lauren W. Herman, J.D., M.T.S., curriculum specialist & instructor, Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute

Fall 2016 Applications Due
Jun 30 all-day
Fall 2016 Applications Due

Applications for the Fall 2016 courses are due no later than Sunday, July 31, 2016.

Applicants who successfully submit their application by 7/31 will be eligible for scholarships.

Due: Early Admissions & Scholarships Applications
Nov 1 all-day
Due: Early Admissions & Scholarships Applications

Spring 2018 Admissions

Early admissions applications for the Spring 2018 courses are due no later than Wednesday, November 1, 2017. Applicants who successfully submit their application by 11/1/17 will be eligible for merit-based scholarships.


Spring 2018 Applications Due
Jan 7 all-day
Spring 2018 Applications Due

Final notice: Applications the Spring 2018 courses are due no later than Sunday, January 7, 2018.

Only those applicants who successfully submit their application by the Early Decision due date of November 1, 2017 will be eligible for scholarships in the Spring 2018 semester.