Tag archives: Virginia

Religious Freedom Day: January 16, 1786

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2014

Today’s commemoration of Religious Freedom Day is important because of what a state legislature did in the early republic. This day in 1786 saw the final passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The bill had worldwide influence. From that time to this, it represents the height of Enlightenment thinking on the crucial role of religious liberty as the solid foundation of a free state.

Thomas Jefferson had first introduced the bill in the Virginia General Assembly in 1779. But the Commonwealth of Virginia was then in the throes of the War of Independence, and British invaders were threatening the state. Action was delayed on this measure until 1785 when Jefferson’s friend and closest political ally, James Madison, skillfully moved the measure through the legislature.

Reporting by letter to Mr. Jefferson, who was by this time America’s Minister to France, Madison said — in his quaint eighteenth century spelling — that it would “add to the lustre of our country.” Jefferson fully agreed and delightedly had the Statute translated into French for full distribution on the continent of Europe. The influence of this document spread far and wide.

Jefferson had offered this bill as a way of establishing religious freedom. We need better to appreciate what was meant by that word. In every civilized country during the time of Jefferson and Madison, parliaments and royal courts established the country’s religion. The “established” Church of England was the only church legally recognized throughout the British Empire and the only one supported by taxes. The best that dissenter Protestants, Catholics, and Jews could hope for in England was toleration.

Toleration meant that you could practice your religion, mostly in private, without harassment from royal authorities. Public celebration of the Catholic Mass was illegal in England. Catholics, Jews, and dissenting Protestants were ineligible to vote, to hold office, or even to serve as a commissioned officer in the Army or the Royal Navy. A religious test was required. Those who were unwilling to pledge even a nominal allegiance to the King’s Church of England were disqualified.

France, our ally in the Revolution, was no better. There, the Catholic Church was established and Protestants and Jews had no civil rights. Holland was perhaps the most enlightened country in Europe, but even for the liberal Dutch, toleration was the guiding principle.

When the great patriot George Mason drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights during the Revolution, he first included in it language supporting the broadest “toleration” for all religions. Young James Madison, in his modest and self-effacing way, had persuaded Mason instead to use the phrase “free exercise of religion.” It was Mason’s document that Jefferson used as a reference in writing the American Declaration of Independence.

Madison had no stronger ally in the fight for the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom than Elder John Leland, a leader of the Old Dominion’s Baptists. These evangelical Protestants had been brutally mistreated under the colonial government of Virginia. Their refusal to tell Church of England clerics where they would preach and to whom they would preach landed a number of Baptist preachers in jail.

In establishing religious freedom for the first time anywhere in the world, the Virginia Statute said that our worship of our Creator was a matter between us and our God. It said we had a duty to worship but the manner and means of that worship were a recognized right of conscience. It freed citizens from paying taxes to support churches they did not attend and doctrines they did not believe. None of the peoples’ rights as citizens would be infringed because of their membership in a particular church body, synagogue, or other “religious society.”

Finally, the Virginia Statute stated in emphatic terms that it recognized the power of succeeding legislatures to amend or repeal portions of the Statute. The authors nonetheless asserted that should any part of the Virginia Statute be diluted or repealed, it would be a violation of a fundamental human right.

The importance of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom cannot be overestimated. Its spirit breathes in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — also a handiwork of James Madison. In the nineteenth century, millions of European immigrants would be drawn to our shores in the knowledge that in America, their faith would be respected and their right to free exercise of religion protected.

Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, and father of the University of Virginia,” reads the epitaph on the Founder’s grave marker. He wrote it himself. Modestly, he added no word about two terms as president, or a long string of offices and titles conferred upon him. Those were gifts of the people to me, he explained, but these were my gifts to them.

Today, America’s religious freedom is in the gravest danger since 1786. The HHS Mandate will force millions of us to aid in the destruction of the inalienable right to life. It violates our consciences and threatens our free exercise of religion.

Our own State Department, forgetting the legacy of two of our ablest Secretaries of State — Jefferson and Madison — has pressured constitution writers in Iraq and Afghanistan to establish Islamist states in which the rights of religious minorities are nowhere respected nor are their lives secure. No wonder our efforts in those strife-torn countries have come to naught.

There’s nothing new under the sun,” said President Harry Truman, “just history we haven’t learned yet.” His words should serve as a warning and a spur to his successor in the White House and the diplomats at State. Even if they have not learned our history, we must remember it.

Washington & Lee: Saving the Union

by Robert Morrison

February 1, 2013

Whenever we hear that term—Washington & Lee—we probably think of the distinguished Virginia university. Dubyanell it’s often called by those who love it. And the term brings to mind two of the Old Dominion’s famous sons—George Washington and Robert E. Lee. Lee modeled his life and his career on the man his father had eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

After he surrendered to Gen. Grant at Appomattox in 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee received many offers of employment. One of these was from an insurance company that promised to pay him $50,000 a year if he would be their president. When Gen. Lee demurred, saying he knew nothing about insurance, the company’s recruiters tried to reassure him that they only wanted his name, that he would be a figurehead president. The former commander of Confederate armies smilingly declined, saying if his name was worth $50,000 a year, he would take good care of it. Instead, Gen. Lee accepted the presidency of Washington College at $5,000 a year. And his inspired leadership transformed the sleepy little school into a pioneer in education. That’s why it’s known today as Washington & Lee University.

My Washington & Lee today is another partnership, a lifelong relationship between Gen. George Washington and his slave, William Lee. Historian David Hackett Fischer’s excellent book, Washington’s Crossing, relates many amazing facts of that near-disastrous year of 1776.

One of the stories that has greatest appeal to me is how the Continental Army nearly broke apart in a huge riot. It was in the Cambridge camp, outside Boston. Virginia backwoodsmen arrived to join the army. Their fringed buckskin jackets suggested frontier roughness. But their frilled white shirts announced that these Virginians considered themselves gentlemen and they expected the deference due them as gentlemen. Some of these Virginians were, like His Excellency, Gen. Washington, the owners of slaves.

They soon collided with Col. John Glover’s Marblehead regiment. Many of Glover’s men were hardy New England sailors. Among their number were free men of color. Seafaring Massachusetts had long included black sailors among its sons. This made Massachusetts more “democratical” from the start.

Fischer’s account is chilling: “Insults gave way to blows, and blows to ‘a fierce struggle’ with ‘biting and gouging.’ One spectator wrote that in less than five minutes more than a thousand combatants were on the field. Americans from one region began to fight Americans from another part of the country, on a larger scale than the battles at Lexington and Concord [emphasis added].”

Rush to Reconciliation

by Robert Morrison

January 16, 2013

Listening to Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) offer up prayers for President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters in Richmond last week reminded me how sweet reconciliation can be. I have not changed my opinion of President Obama’s policies—especially what I regard as his harmful moves on abortion, marriage, and religious freedom.

Still, speaker after speaker at the Commonwealth Prayer Breakfast noted the fellowship they shared around prayer in the legislature in Richmond. Virginia’s General Assembly lays claim to being the oldest legislature in the New World. The evident genuineness of the friendship between Democrats and Republicans in Richmond may serve as a lesson for politicos here in Washington.

Recently, I met a young man who is descended from Founding Father Benjamin Rush. Dr. Rush was a key figure in the Revolution, a friend to all the leading figures. Always a Patriot, Dr. Rush was a Signer of the Declaration of Independence. He strongly supported Gen. Washington’s “policy of humanity” toward the defeated Hessians at Trenton. This took a lot of courage because those Hessians had given no quarter to our boys whom they overran on Long Island. They ran our young soldiers through with their terrible 17-inch bayonets—even after the Americans had surrendered.

Because I now knew one of his “posterity,” I made a point of looking out for Dr. Rush as I watched the HBO series on “John Adams.” The last episode was especially touching—and revealing.

Even in his ninetieth year, the ex-president remains mentally acute. In fact, he seems actually to discern more. “Take away hope and what remains? I have seen the Queen of France with 18 million livres of diamonds and jewels on her person, yet all the charms of her face and figure did not impress me as much as that little shrub.” He points to a delicate little flower with his walking stick. Adams turns to his youngest son, Thomas, and says, “your mother always said I never delighted enough in the mundane. But now, if I look at the smallest thing, my imagination begins to roam.”

He looks up at the sky and at the beauty of the fields around him. They are his fields, tilled by his own hand, and not, as those of his dear friend, Thomas Jefferson, labored in by slaves. His words on the little flower are but a paraphrase of Jesus’s in the Sermon on the Mount: Consider the lilies of the field. They toil not. Neither do they spin. Yet Solomon in all his splendor was not arrayed as one of these.

Then old Honest John Adams turns to his son, ecstatically, and says: “Rejoice evermore. Rejoice evermore!” Thomas seems to think father a bit daft. “It’s from St. Paul, you fool,” and he shouts to the sky: REJOICE EVERMORE.

Sobering, he confesses: “I wish that had always been in my heart and on my tongue.”

He recognizes the lifetime of broken relationships and fierce hostilities. He may be regretting the tragedy of a son who drinks himself to death and the estrangement from a son-in-law who, though a brave and resourceful officer in war, and a dutiful secretary to himself, had nonetheless a penchant for bootless get-rich-quick schemes that ended in penury.

One of the most important scenes is that in 1812 between the great Dr. Benjamin Rush and Adams. Dr. Rush had been on hand for daughter Nabby’s breast cancer operation and subsequent death, and for Abigail’s passing.

Now, he tenderly offers to inform Mr. Jefferson of Abigail’s passing. “If Thomas Jefferson were to send me a letter, Adams says, “I would not fail to answer it.”

Delicately, Rush suggests perhaps Adams might write first. We know that they had not been on speaking terms since Adams took the morning coach out of Washington in 1801.

Adams’s face darkens: “that man honored and salaried every villain who was an enemy to me and who caused grave harm to my reputation.”

Softly, Dr. Rush’s answer would turn away wrath: “that is why you must show magnanimity. I consider you and Mr. Jefferson the North and South Poles of our revolution. Some spoke. Some wrote. Some fought. But you and Mr. Jefferson thought for us all.”

What the camera should then have recorded, but inexplicably did not, was John Adams bursting into tears, saying: “I have always loved Thomas Jefferson!”

They may dispute Adams’s and Jefferson’s faith, but no one has ever said Benjamin Rush was not a Christian. Rush’s great work of reconciliation makes possible the magnificent closing scene of their lives: Adams and Jefferson dying on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. Without Rush’s healing intervention, the two giants might have died the same day, still bitter antagonists.

We need that healing balm of friendship and reconciliation now more than ever. One thing I learned from the Values Bus tour last fall. I would make a point of thanking our friends who came out to hear us. Then, I would work the line of protesters who came out to oppose us. I thanked them, too, for coming.

In Eagle River, Wisconsin, some of the protesters looked puzzled when I welcomed them. I pointed to the TV cameras and microphones. “When you come, they come. And then we get our Values Bus on the 6 o’clock news. So, welcome!” Some of them even laughed. We have to be warriors, alas, but we can be happy warriors. Dr. Benjamin Rush taught us how.

Rolling through the Old Dominion on the Values Bus

by Robert Morrison

October 29, 2012

We drove in the Values Bus down Virginia’s Route 29 past the Brandy Station battlefield. That was the site of the greatest cavalry battle ever fought on this continent. We are fighting an entirely different kind of battle these days. We are trying to rally Virginians to vote their values. In Virginia, this is an old fight. Virginians in 2006 voted 57% to support true marriage. This is the state where America’s religious liberty was first attained. Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom of 1786 set the highest standard for this nation and the world. No other country has established religious freedom as its foundation. James Madison, who traveled this very road many times on his way to and from Washington, said the passage of this law, drafted seven years earlier by his good friend Thomas Jefferson, would add to “the lustre of our country.” Even more than that, Madison believed that religious liberty was the necessary foundation for civil liberty. He said so in his famous Federalist No. 51.

At Liberty University in Lynchburg, we have a light turnout. But Dean Mat Staver comes out to greet us. Dean Staver is also president of the Liberty Counsel. Having the chance to meet this Christian leader is worth the trip. We all make our statements and join with Bishop Harry Jackson and Rev. Dr. Philip Goudeaux. Bishop Jackson is leading us on this marriage tour. He speaks with passion of the need to “vote vertical,” that is, to vote as God has told us in His Word to honor the threatened institution of marriage.

Dr. Goudeaux pastors America’s largest black church, with some 24,000 members. He has come all the way from Sacramento, California, to support this marriage effort. But his pro-life testimony is what shines brightest. Born to a 14-year old mother who had been raped, Dr. Goudeaux says he thanks God for his mother’s biblical values, that she spared his life. And what a life it has been!

Genevieve Wood, Vice President for Communications of Heritage Foundation, makes the strong point that our economy is not going to improve without strong families. And the key to strong families is the marital bond. Everywhere we go, our cooperation is made stronger by Family Research Councils commitment to fiscal conservatism and Heritages understanding that marriage is essential. Its why we say the value issues are indivisible.

Not all conservatives agree, unfortunately. A smart young fellow I met at the gun show in Pennsylvania said, of course, he thought the churches should be free to keep marriage as the union of one man and one woman. But “the government should stay out of marriage.”

As gently as I could, I remind this fellow that out of wedlock births are the quickest route to poverty for women and children and the express lane to state socialism. Dont take my word for it. Just ask Treasury Sec. Tim Geithner. He argues we cannot cut social spending because four in ten children born today qualify for Medicaid. That would be the 42% out-of-wedlock births that this administrations policies promote.

Recall Julia. Shes the fictional character trotted out by the White House to show the benefits of a life lived under government tutelage and subsidy. Julia goes from Head Start to Medicare and Social Security under the supervision of the federal government, in the scenario offered by President Obama. At age 29, Julia decides to have a child. No marriage is mentioned. No husband intrudes. In fact, Julia has no father, no brother, no male friend or business partner. In the entire fictional Life of Julia we have been offered, the only man in her life is Barack Obama.

The Values Bus rolls into Richmond. On the grounds of Jeffersons beautiful State Capitol, we make our statements. What an amazing event. This building was once the heart of the Confederacy. Now, black and white Christians link arms to defend the bedrock of civilization. Virginia voters were united with voters in every state of the Old South to defend marriage. Black Southerners provided the winning margins in every contested state, some of those marriage victories scored as high as 72%.

Most recently, North Carolina voters in May gave 61% approval to a marriage amendment. This landslide victory included 49% of the Tarheel States Democrats. North Carolinians heard Billy Graham plead with them to support marriage and former President Bill Clinton, who had signed the Defense of Marriage Act, urge them to overturn it. They went with the evangelist. Imagine that.

In Fredericksburg, we meet at the Prayer Furnace. We meet an enthusiastic reception among the scores of young Pentecostals here. This mixed race ministry is engaged in prayer, teaching, and preparing missionaries. Some of these young believers have come out of tragic situations of poverty and abuse. They have found a refuge of love here. One woman, who seems older than the rest, but still not more than 35, tells me of her abortions as a teen. By Gods grace, she says, she now leads a pregnancy care center. A bruised reed He did not break.

Here, State Sen. Bryce Reeves (R) addresses the gathering. He is a champion in Richmond for family values. Sen. Reeves last year defeated an entrenched liberal incumbent by just 86 votes out of 50,000 cast. That narrow win has not caused him to back off on fighting for life, marriage, and religious freedom.

After our short speeches, several of these loving young people gather round me and pray most earnestly for my safety. You know they are Christians by their love.

Their prayers for us, and those of thousands of others, have been a hedge of protection for the Values Bus. As I finish my time on the road, visiting my eighth state, I count this as one of the great experiences of my life. Forty years ago, I campaigned for my own election. I came out against abortion and suffered a crushing defeat. Two months later, The New York Times trumpeted the victory of liberal abortion and said the controversy was over. I have not believed the gray lady since.

We dont know how this election will turn out, or how the values issues will fare in the ballot box. But we know this much: The struggle to protect innocent human life will never be over. When I looked out at all those eager faces of the young Christians at the Prayer Furnace, I thanked God for their lives.

Virginia Cuts Funding of Abortions

by Family Research Council

April 22, 2010

Last night, Virginia had a major pro-life victory, passing a budget amendment that will limit abortion funding to extreme cases such as those covered by the federal Hyde Amendment (rape, incest or life of mother). Until now Virginia taxpayers also paid for abortions in cases of fetal abnormality and other instances.

Congratulations, and thank you to Governor McDonnell for introducing this amendment, to Virginia legislators who voted to accept it, and to Virginia residents who contacted your representatives and asked them to protect life in Virginia.

Local High School to House Clinic Promoting Family Planning for Youth 12-19

by Family Research Council

March 2, 2010

* Note: Alexandria City Schools School Board Meeting tonight!

As a taxpaying citizen of Alexandria, VA, a former educator, and a person who values our young people and wants them to have the best options available, I am outraged that the public school system in Alexandria is funding a local teen health center, with a primary focus on family planning. Moreover, I strongly disagree with the planned move of the center from its current location in a trailer outside a nearby shopping center, directly into T.C. Williams High School so that center workers will have unlimited access to students.

Not only do I not want my hard-earned tax dollars supporting this endeavor, but more importantly, I am convinced that this move undermines parental authority, is costly to our city, and most importantly does a huge disservice to young people.

The center provides services for youth aged 12-19 years old, dispenses contraception and refers for abortion without parental permission. The teen center also provides other services, interestingly, all which require parental permission, such as routine physical exams, vaccinations, treatment of minor illnesses. However the primary focus of the center is family planning, STD treatment and abortion referral.

Given that research continually supports the fact that sexual involvement at a young age is not good for adolescents, especially girls, why would T.C. Williams and Alexandria City Schools consider this a good decision for our young peoples health?

A study released less than two weeks ago again showed that abstinent teens report better psychological well-being and higher educational attainment than those who are sexually active. Another recent study stated that sexual abstinence is typically associated with better physical and psychological health among American adolescents, including less problems with depression, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), infertility later in life, addiction to drugs and alcohol, and academic achievement. This same study indicated that girls are significantly more likely to suffer from depression when they are sexually active than adolescent boys.

Not only is teen sexual involvement bad for young people, but it is also extraordinarily costly to our economically burdened city. In FY10, employee salaries were frozen due to the financial crisis, yet teen STI, out-of-wedlock childbearing and emotional and psychological harm are expensive social service projects for the City of Alexandria.

Additionally excluding parents from these important decisions removes the strongest support and influence in a young persons life. While it might not always seem to be the case that young people want to talk about the birds and the bees with mom and dad, studies show that in fact teens do want to hear from their parents on these matters, and actually consider them the most influential people in their lives when it comes to sexual decision making. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a parent most influences a young persons decision to become sexually involved.

According to this poll,

  • 9 out of 10 teens (94%) think that adults should let teens know they should wait to have sex at least until they get out of high school
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 (88%) teens say it would be easier to avoid early sexual activity and teen pregnancy if they were able to have more open, honest conversations about these topics with their parents

What are better options?

In early January, a rigorous study was released that compared abstinence education with contraceptive sex education. The study overwhelmingly supported abstinence education as the most effective in reducing sexual initiation among young teens, to the extent that even detractors of abstinence education admitted this fact.

Parents also strongly prefer the message of abstinence to contraceptive sex education. A recent poll showed that parents prefer abstinence education 2 to 1.

The funding of the clinic and planned move into TC Williams raise a number of questions and concerns. Why would Alexandria City Schools not offer that which is healthiest and most efficacious for young people? And why is the school system undermining the parent/child relationship, especially regarding topics as important as sexual decision-making? In a moment when we are looking to cut the fat out of the budget, why would we spend money on a prevention program that is not good for kids, and will ultimately cost the taxpayers more money?

I strongly encourage you to get the word out about this clinic. Here is the press release from Feb 28th from Alexandria City Schools.

The school board is meeting on tonight, Tuesday, March 2nd. If you would like to speak about this issue at the meeting, contact Rosemary Webb, clerk of the school board, and ask to speak at the meeting. You can contact the school board by clicking here.

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