Today Marks Religious Freedom Day 2006

Commemorating the day Thomas Jefferson declared religious freedom for all Americans, the nation today celebrates Religious Freedom Day as declared by President George Bush.

"The right to religious freedom is a foundation of America," said Bush in his proclamation Friday. "Our Founding Fathers knew the importance of freedom of religion to a stable democracy, and our Constitution protects individuals' rights to worship as they choose."

In 1786, Jefferson drafted the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, protecting the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. Now, 14 years after the first Religious Freedom Day proclamation by former President H.W. Bush, the 2006 proclamation again highlights the rejection of every form of religious discrimination and prejudice.

"We reject religious discrimination in every form, and we continue our efforts to oppose prejudice and to counter any infringements on religious freedom," said Bush.

A similar voice of freedom resonates with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose birthday the nation also observes today.

"It is fitting that both Martin Luther King Day and Religious Freedom Day share the same significance of 'freedom,'" said Eric Buehrer, president of Gateways to Better Education. "It was Reverend King’s religious faith that animated his fight for civil rights, and religious freedom that enabled him to express his faith and move a generation."

Beyond the civil rights and freedoms within the nation, however, Bush extends the need to advance religious freedom abroad to work against religious persecution around the world.

Persecution is on the rise in such countries as Indonesia and Eritrea with continual suffering in North Korea. Despite ongoing persecution, Middle East countries including Iraq, which recently completed its landmark government elections, have been noted for their human rights and religious freedom progress.

"By helping to secure the religious freedom of people in other countries, we promote the spread of liberty and human dignity," said Bush.