January 16 is Religious Freedom Day, commemorating the Virginia General Assembly's adoption of Thomas Jefferson's landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. In his proclamation | [.pdf] this year, President Barack Obama writes:
The Virginia Statute was more than a law. It was a statement of principle, declaring freedom of religion as the natural right of all humanity -- not a privilege for any government to give or take away. Penned by Thomas Jefferson and championed in the Virginia legislature by James Madison, it barred compulsory support of any church and ensured the freedom of all people to profess their faith openly, without fear of persecution. Five years later, the First Amendment of our Bill of Rights followed the Virginia Statute's model, stating, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .".
This is a good time to review both the frequently misstated history of religious freedom in the United States, and the frequently misdescribed current law: Religious Expression in American Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law.