Virginia’s trifecta of uniqueness contributes to America’s Religious Freedom which we celebrate on the National Day of Prayer.
After the Fifth Virginia Convention began on May 5, 1776 there was a resolution on May 15 calling for a declaration of rights for Virginia. The Convention declared independence from Britain and directed its Delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia to call for the Declaration of Independence.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights was first drafted by George Mason on May 20 of 1776 and was subsequently amended by Thomas Ludwell Lee and the Virginia Convention. It was James Madison who assisted on Section 16 which pertains to Religious Freedom.
The Declaration of Rights was unanimously adopted by the Fifth Virginia Convention at Williamsburg, Virginia on June 12, 1776.
It was the Fifth Virginia Convention that also on June 29, 1776 adopted the Virginia Constitution and chose Patrick Henry as the first Governor of Virginia.
Firstly, Section 16 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights distinguishes Virginia as unique among all other states or Commonwealths for in it there is the reference not only to “our creator”, but more distinctly to “the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”
Secondly, the adopting of the Constitution of Virginia on June 29, 1776 is the first such constitution adopted by the people’s representatives in the history of the world. Virginia is unique in the aspect that she had her Constitution prior to the Declaration of Independence.
Third, with the inauguration of the first Governor on June 29, 1776, Virginia became the first Colony to become a State or Commonwealth with a functioning Republic government completing the trifecta of her uniqueness!
We live in an exceptional nation and those who live in Virginia are blessed that we live in an exceptional and unique Commonwealth and I consider myself doubly blessed as I reside in Fredericksburg as an exceptional City where Thomas Jefferson penned the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
Unquestionably the Freedom of Religion is a contributing factor to the exceptional blessings that we enjoy on the National Day of Prayer.
On October 14, 1776 Thomas Ludwell Lee, George Mason, George Wythe and Edmund Pendleton were was appointed to a committee headed by Thomas Jefferson to revise, amend or repeal any Virginia law subject to the approval of the Virginia House of Delegates.
On January 13-17, 1777 these five revisers met at the Rising Sun Tavern in Fredericksburg, Virginia and so the Institutionalization of Freedom of Religion has its roots in Virginia and more specifically Fredericksburg, where in 1777 Jefferson penned the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
The concepts expressed in that document relate to and are derived directly from what was written previously in the Virginia Bill of Rights; June 12, 1776.
Here again it is important to point out that the Virginia Bill of Rights and the Constitution of Virginia predate three other fundamental documents of our Republic, The Declaration of Independence, The US Constitution (the Establishment clause of the First Amendment of) and The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
The Virginia law was one of the sources that Congress drew on when drafting the Bill of Rights in 1789, which granted the free exercise of religion and prohibited Congress from abridging the freedom of religion. Its guarantees became part of the second Virginia Constitution that was adopted in 1830.
Jefferson considered the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as one of his three greatest achievements, ranking it with the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the founding of the University of Virginia. According to the Virginia History and Government Textbook Commission, which was created by a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in its 1950 session, “Virginia was the first sovereign commonwealth, state, or nation in all the world to proclaim by law entire freedom of religious belief or unbelief.”
Let me draw to the close of this article with the opening quote of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, “A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.”
That basis and foundation of government stands with the cornerstone of Religious liberty in place and sure till this day!
While many are familiar with the National Day of Prayer what many are not aware of is that the first week of May is “America’s Spiritual Heritage Week”.
As entered in The United States House of Representatives by Virginia Congressman Randy Forbes in the 111th Congress 1st Session House Resolution 397 Affirming the rich and religious history of our Nation’s founding and subsequent history and expressing support for the designation of the first week in May as “America’s Spiritual Heritage Week” for the appreciation of and education on America’s History of religious Faith.
Resolved, That the United States House of Representatives –
Affirms the rich spiritual and diverse history of our Nation’s founding and subsequent history, including up to the present day;
Recognizes that the religious foundations of faith on which America was built are critical underpinnings of our Nation’s most valuable institutions and form the inseparable foundation of America’s representative processes, legal systems, and societal structures:
Rejects, in the strongest possible terms any effort to remove, obscure, or purposely omit such history from our Nation’s public buildings and educational resources; and
Express support for a designation of a (n) “America’s Spiritual Heritage Week” every year for the appreciation of and education on America’s history of religious faith.
With regard to the National Day of Prayer we are aware that in 1775 the Continental Congress allocated a time for prayer in forming a new nation. Over the years, there have been calls for a day of prayer, including from President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. On April 17, 1952, President Harry Truman signed a bill proclaiming the National Day of Prayer into law in the United States. President Reagan amended the law in 1988, designating the first Thursday of May each year as the National Day of Prayer.
WHEREAS, prayer plays a powerful role in the lives of people of all cultures, religions and backgrounds and serves as a source of moral and spiritual guidance for millions throughout our Commonwealth and nation; and
WHEREAS, the call to prayer has been echoed throughout American history by such leaders as George Washington, a native Virginian, who called for a national day of prayer and fasting on January 1, 1795; President Lincoln, who called for a day of “humiliation, fasting and prayer” in 1863; President Truman, who in 1952 signed a joint resolution declaring an annual National Day of Prayer; and President Ronald Reagan, who in 1988 signed into law a bill that provided for the permanent designation of the first Thursday of each May as the National Day of Prayer; and
WHEREAS, President George Washington understood the unique character of the new nation as one grounded in faith in God and the rule of law, and he stated in his first inaugural address, “the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained;” and
WHEREAS, on May 1, 2014, millions of Americans will come together in churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, parks, and other public venues to observe the 63rd National Day of Prayer with its theme, “Pray for America”; and
WHEREAS, since the founding of our Commonwealth and country, citizens have turned to prayer for inspiration, strength and guidance in times of trial, and it is fitting to provide an opportunity for people of all faiths to pray for wisdom, guidance, and protection on behalf of their families, government leaders, military, and civil servants;
As called for by The Congress then , by Public Law 100-307, as amended, and as calling on the President to issue each year a proclamation designating the first Thursday in May as a “National Day of Prayer.”
While we await our Presidential proclamation let us remember that when freedom rings, her greatest peal is the sweet sound of Religious Freedom! Let freedom ring on the National Day of Prayer!
By Rev. Michael Hirsch of Calvary Christian Church Fredericksburg, VA