Commemorating National Religious Freedom Day in 2024

National Religious Freedom Day is commemorated every year on January 16th in recognition of the landmark adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, which formed the basis for the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The Establishment Clause, coupled with the Free Exercise Clause, are the protections identified in the Bill of Rights that are specifically tailored toward ensuring no state religion is ever formed, and that no religious belief is favored over another.

Today, we find these fundamental principles in the direct crosshairs of Christian Nationalists who are hellbent on dismantling the secular fiber of our democracy throughout government and the courts. The disastrous decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District effectively hamstrung decades-worth of jurisprudence with regards to the Establishment Clause, and the overturning of federal abortion protections with the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision showed the power that the Christian Nationalist right has consolidated on the highest court in the land. Additionally, the ascension of Rep. Mike Johnson, an avowed religious fundamentalist, to Speaker of the House, further shows how quickly Christian Nationalism is taking hold of institutions.

Christian Nationalism is an ideology and movement that is diametrically opposed to religious freedom and a pluralistic society, presenting a dangerous threat to humanists, nontheists, non-Christian people of faith, and even Christians who do not subscribe to a specific political agenda. The ideology further threatens the rights, liberties, and livelihoods of people of all marginalized identities. We have already seen this movement escalate toward violence numerous times, including during the January 6th insurrection upon the Capitol, with little accountability for those in power who fan the flames of this type of extremism, and through coordinated attacks in state legislatures that directly threaten the lives of trans* people, particular trans* youth of color. For religious freedom to thrive in 2024 and beyond, these dangerous, anti-pluralistic agendas must be exposed and addressed at the root. It is clear these attacks on our rights come from our nation’s version of religious fascism attempting to extinguish true religious freedom in the US and across the globe.

As humanists, we advocate for religious freedom as a fundamental value. We believe in a world where nontheists and people of faith are afforded equal rights, representation, and access to society. It’s clear that religious freedom must be reclaimed from the far right who has manipulated this critical principle to further a Christo-fascist agenda within government. The term religious freedom necessarily includes freedom from religion in government and equal rights for nontheists or it is rendered meaningless.

National Religious Freedom Day reminds us that the separation of church and state is as American as apple pie, and the idea that the United States is a nation governed by Christianity is an absolute farce. Our work as progressive humanists to hold that line could not be more critical. In a time where there is a concerted attempt to rewrite history, days such as today reaffirm the truth that the United States is and was always intended to be a secular nation. We must continue our efforts to hold this country to its purported ideals and it’s clear that we have our work cut out for us.