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Freedom of religion should also be practiced in our local communities
Dear Editor,

One of the main things that sets our country apart in the world is the freedom that is granted to our citizens by the Bill of Rights. Our forefathers worked hard to secure these rights for us, the future citizens of America.

One of the most important of these rights is religious freedom. Although heralded as an important right, many aspects of religious freedom are constantly being bombarded by some of our citizens who want to squelch this freedom or limit it.

In my lifetime, I have witnessed and experienced these kinds of attacks, many of which have successfully limited freedom despite our American rights. People are ridiculed and socially stigmatized because of their beliefs, and some have to bear further attacks such as being fired from jobs for their beliefs.

This should be unthinkable in our country, but most who are thus denied their real freedom and discriminated against are not powerful or wealthy enough to legally fight back against those who wish to quiet them.

Every year since Congress’ directive in 1993, January 16 has been declared Religious Freedom Day to commemorate the Virginia legislature’s passage in 1786 of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, authored by Thomas Jefferson.

The Statute recognized the right of all peoples to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. It was a model for the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment and its guarantee of religious freedom, recognizing that the right to worship freely is a right granted by God, not government.

In accordance with celebrating this historic statute, President Bush declared January 16, 2008, as Religious Freedom Day. He has issued Religious Freedom Day Proclamations every year of his presidency, as the past presidents also have. At his direction in 2003, the U.S. Department of Education updated guidelines clarifying students’ religious liberties.

Last year, President Bush urged Americans to “reflect on the great blessing of religious liberty, endeavor to preserve this freedom for future generations, and commemorate this day with appropriate events and activities in their schools, places of worship, neighborhoods, and homes.”

Religious Freedom Day also provides an opportunity to highlight a key provision of our state’s constitution that from the very beginning, North Carolina has embraced religious liberty. The Declaration of Rights in our Constitution states: “All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”

To help stop censorship of students’ religious expression and to encourage schools to observe Religious Freedom Day, a group of national organizations has formed a coalition at www.ReligiousFreedomDay.com.

We all need to understand how important religious freedom is and be willing to let others in our society express their beliefs without fear of discrimination or harm from anyone. Let’s work together in 2008 and beyond to ensure that our local community upholds the laws that grant real freedom of religion to every citizen.

Michele A. Cruz

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