Tag Archives: Statute for Religious Freedom

- First Freedom: Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom


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The official enrolled parchment of 16 January 1786, An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, is one of the most important archival records preserved in the Library of Virginia. The text begins partway down one side of the parchment (a specially prepared animal skin) and concludes partway down the other side. The use of parchment developed in England hundreds of years ago for preserving official texts of laws. All the laws of a session of Parliament or a session of the General Assembly were copied onto parchments, signed, and then rolled up like a large scroll; hence, the title ‘Enrolled Bills’ for the official signed texts of these laws. No other version of the text, not even the text of the laws printed by order of the assembly after it adjourned, was considered as authoritative as the enrolled copy. To authenticate the text, the clerks and Speakers of the House of Delegates and Senate of Virginia all signed the document. In 1786, governors of Virginia had no veto power, and bills passed by the assembly passed automatically became law without the governor needing to sign them.

By 2013, the Statute had suffered fading and surface abrasion because of improper storage and handling in the decades following its enactment. This led the Virginia Association of Museums to name the Statute one of the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts … read more »

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- “Let Jews, Mehometans, and Christians of every Denomination Enjoy Religious Liberty”


Daniel Chodowiecki, Die aufgeklärte Weisheit als Minerva schützt die Gläubigen aller Religionen [translation: Minerva as a symbol of enlightened wisdom protects the believers of all religions], 1791. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Religious liberty is a hot button issue during this year’s presidential campaign. Should a religious test be applied for the purpose of denying Muslims entrance to our country? Can an elected government official deny a marriage license to a couple because their lifestyle is contrary to the official’s religious beliefs? The debate concerning religious liberty is hardly new. It goes back to America’s colonial period. And just like today, there were passionate voices on both sides of the debate.

During the colonial era, only one religious denomination was recognized by the British government– the Church of England, also known as the Anglican Church. There were other denominations in Virginia, including Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Mennonites, but the British government and the Anglican Church labelled them collectively as Dissenters. As a result of this differentiation, the followers of Dissenter churches, as well as Roman Catholics, did not enjoy the same civil and religious rights as Anglicans. Marriages performed by Baptist or Mennonite clergy were not recognized as legitimate by the Anglican Church. A religious test was used for the express purpose of denying Roman Catholics the right to hold public office. And everyone in Virginia, to the chagrin of Dissenters and Catholics, had to pay a tax to support the Anglican Church.

Growing sentiment for political independence from Great Britain also promoted the pursuit of religious … read more »