President Barack Obama marked National Religious Freedom Day by releasing a statement on Wednesday celebrating the event, although some conservative groups have argued that his administration's policies go against that very freedom.
"Foremost among the rights Americans hold sacred is the freedom to worship as we choose," Obama began in his statement. "Because of the protections guaranteed by our Constitution, each of us has the right to practice our faith openly and as we choose. As a free country, our story has been shaped by every language and enriched by every culture."
National Religious Freedom Day is celebrated annually on Jan. 16, commemorating the Virginia General Assembly's adoption of Thomas Jefferson's landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on Jan. 16, 1786. The document was essential for fostering the religious freedom clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In his statement, Obama reminded the nation that Americans of every faith have shaped the country, and praised the pilgrims, pioneers and protesters who have fought for abolition, women's suffrage and civil rights.
"Each generation has seen people of different faiths join together to advance peace, justice, and dignity for all," the president's statement read. "Today, we also remember that religious liberty is not just an American right; it is a universal human right to be protected here at home and across the globe. This freedom is an essential part of human dignity, and without it our world cannot know lasting peace."
Some conservative groups, like anti-abortion source LifeNews.com, have called Obama's statement "ironic," however, and said that the current White House administration has pushed some big laws that go against religious freedom, such as the Affordable Care Act provision of Obamacare which mandates employers to provide contraceptive coverage in their employees' health plans.
Most recently, the White House administration announced it is challenging an injunction awarded to Tyndale House Publishers, which publishes Bibles along with Christian fiction and non-fiction works, arguing that the for-profit group cannot be considered a religious organization and therefore is not exempt from the Obamacare mandate.
"Our religious liberty and rights of conscience have been threatened like never before under President Obama, who has mandated that employers must cover abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans, regardless of their moral or religious objections," added Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. "President Obama must first rescind his HHS mandate before making any proclamations on the subject – this is blatant hypocrisy."
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins also called Obama out on the contraceptive mandate and reminded him of Americans' freedom of religion, not just worship.
"Earlier today President Obama issued a proclamation declaring today 'Religious Freedom Day.' However, the first sentence of his proclamation emphasizes the sacredness of the 'freedom of worship.' I would remind the president that the Constitution does not guarantee us only freedom of worship but also the freedom of religion," Perkins said in a statement. "The two are very different. Freedom of religion goes further by guaranteeing the right to live out one's faith not only in the privacy of his or her home but in the public square as well.
"While President Obama's proclamation extols the 'freedom of worship,' his administration has the worst record protecting religious liberty in American history."
During his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama stressed that he is very dedicated to religious liberties, and the White House created a website called "People of Faith" that outlines the president's promise to the nation.
"In a changing world, my commitment to protecting religious liberty is and always will be unwavering. As American's diversity grows, we have a chance to reaffirm the pluralism that has defined us as a nation. A pluralism expansive enough to protect the rights of all to speak their minds and to follow their conscious," Obama declared in a video message.
The website Religious Freedom Day offers a collection of all the statements made on Jan. 16 by Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton during their time in charge of the country.