USA (MNN) — Today is National Religious Freedom Day. January 16 is the anniversary of the enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom as written by Thomas Jefferson. The original statute disestablished the Church of England in the state of Virginia, guaranteeing religious freedom for all citizens, regardless of their religion.
Now, in 2020, the Statute’s legacy lives on in the form of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).
The USCIRF seeks to raise awareness of international instances of persecution and give voice to groups whose religious freedom has not been protected. And as of this December, they’ve been reauthorized to keep up their work for another three years.
In the words of Voice of the Martyrs USA’s Todd Nettleton, “They will continue to shed light on incidences of persecution or abuse of religious freedom and other countries and really help our government here in the U.S. continue to make this a part of our foreign policy.”
Part of the USCIRF’s role involves keeping American officials informed on religious persecution around the world. “They continue to raise this important issue among our leadership so that they know what’s going on and can factor that into some of the decisions they make with regard to our relationships with other countries,” Nettleton says.
This reauthorization is especially noteworthy because it was cleared in a bilateral vote. “In a time where it seems like the two sides in Washington agree on almost nothing… people from both parties voted in the same direction on this particular bill, which seems like a bit of a miracle right now,” Nettleton says.
So far, the USCIRF has been instrumental in designating countries of particular concern, recommending nations for sanctions, and inducing countries to improve their approach to religious freedom. They even had a hand in helping convince Turkish officials to free Pastor Andrew Brunson.
Politically, Nettleton says it’s a tool for unification. “It is a bipartisan issue,” he says. “It is something that both sides of the aisle should care about, and I hope that it maintains that throughout the three years of this authorization.”
Spiritually, it’s a reminder that the Church is called to advocate for the voiceless and protect its members. It gives a platform to the silenced and reminds us that freedom is a privilege not to be taken lightly. Consider how you can advocate for persecuted peoples around the world in 2020 and beyond.
Header photo courtesy of Unsplash.