It’s Ash Wednesday of 2019. Students at Valley View Elementary School file into their fourth-grade classroom ready for a new day. William McLeod walks to sit down and pull out his books. “William?” his teacher questions.
All eyes turn to William. William, alarmed by the sudden rush of attention, looks around. His classmates start to giggle. He blushes.
“Please remove that marking from your forehead. It’s inappropriate for our school or you could make your way to the principal’s office. You decide,” his teacher continues. “William, why don’t you go ahead and go to the principal’s office, since you refuse to do what I say. Go on now.”
Little William McLeod hesitantly rises from his seat and exits the classroom door, worrily making his way to the principal’s office through tears. His misdemeanor—an ash cross on his forehead in public school.
“We will not let anyone push God from the Public Square,” said President Trump on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020. President Trump invited William McLeod and several other students, as well as education officials, to make a statement concerning religious freedom in the U.S.
Referring back to his track record with religious rights, President Trump said in a Proclamation, “I stop[ped] the Johnson Amendment from interfering with pastor’s rights to speak their minds.”
He also included in his presidential letter to the public, concerning religious freedom, that the DOJ has received 14 convictions in cases of “attacks or threats against places of worship”; he signed an Executive Order requiring Federal agencies protect against anti-Semitism with all diligence; and in July 2019, he welcomed survivors from religious persecution from 16 countries to the Oval Office. The survivors included Christians, Jews and Muslims.
William McLeod and his mother, who are Catholic, proudly stood next to President Trump on the 234th National Day of Religious Freedom where President Trump avowed religious protection for all.
As a result, President Trump held an event this year at the Oval Office on school prayer on Thursday, Jan. 16, where he announced plans to strengthen protections for faith-based groups that partner with the government to provide social services. He sent an ultimatum to school officials warning them of significant loss of government funding if a student is not respected within their first amendment rights, the right to pray.
National Day of Religious Freedom is not commonly made known in the suburbs and small towns of America.
“I think it’s cool to have a leader of our country push for those things. If not it could be forgotten about,” said Ashley Jacob, a freshman elementary education major.
“In hopes that he will do the same thing for someone who was bullied for wearing a hijab,” said Polly Tjihenuna, a junior sociology major from Namibia.
In reading the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, it is obvious that Thomas Jefferson would have wanted nothing less.
Pushed and authored by Thomas Jefferson, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was passed in 1786. In this Federal document, Jefferson boldly declared that unlike other nations, America would not have a federal or governmental religion.
“Be it enacted by the General Assembly…that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion,” reads part of the document.
This was the document that began the annual rhetoric of National Religious Freedom Day a rhetoric that each presidency has boldly and proudly proclaimed on Jan. 16.
“NOW, THEREFORE, I, [insert president’s name], President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 16, 2020, as Religious Freedom Day.”
The difference is that among the past 45 presidents, this one went one step beyond. This truth was accounted for by a governmental official.
“Americans of faith play an essential role in providing health care and human services to so many vulnerable people and communities, and President Trump is dedicated to removing every unfair barrier that stands in the way of this important work,” said Health and Human Services Department Secretary Alex Azar.
“Our actions today will protect the constitutional rights of students, teachers, and faith-based institutions,” said Education Secretary DeVos.
Thomas Jefferson in the Statute stressed his great concern of America becoming like Communist China or Third Reich Germany (much later on), demanding all citizens pay homage to the governmental religion. His desire was that a free United States for all would create a safe haven that people of all faiths, as well as non-believers, could enjoy.