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Religious Freedom Documents

These links provide access to the texts of several important historical and contemporary documents pertaining to religious liberty.

United States Constitution

Though the words of the First Amendment are more well known, the Constitution's original text also contained language protecting religious freedom.

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)

This law was drafted by Thomas Jefferson, and is considered by many to be among Jefferson's greatest achievements. It became a model for other states.

James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments (1785)

This is Madison's eloquent argument for religious freedom, prepared in response to Patrick Henry's 1784 bill proposing the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of Virginia.

Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (1802)

Jefferson was not the first to use the metaphor of a "wall of separation" between church and state, but his language in this letter has become part of the common currency of the First Amendment, both in the Supreme Court and the larger American discourse.

The Williamsburg Charter on the First Amendment (1988)

This eloquent document was prepared by a diverse group of legal and religious scholars as a reaffirmation of the central principles of religious liberty. It was published on June 25, 1988, the 200th anniversary of Virginia's call for the Bill of Rights. Its signers included former Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, congressmen, and many religious and civic leaders.

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 (1948)

This foundational international human rights document included an important provision on religious freedom that has been extended and elaborated in subsequent documents.

United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 18 (1966)

The United States has signed this covenant. It is a binding legal document in international law, but by itself does not create rights enforceable by private citizens in U.S. courts.

United Nations Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief (1981)

This document is not a binding legal instrument, but it articulates important principles of religious liberty and elaborates the more general provisions of the 1966 covenant. It provides an international reference point for determining violations of religious rights.

United Methodist Church Resolution on Religious Liberty

United Methodist Church Resolution on Separation of Church and State

United Methodist Church Social Principle on Church and State Separation

United Methodist Church Social Principle on Rights of Religious Minorities

Roman Catholic Church Declaration on Religious Liberty, Vatican II, 1965

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