Here are some suggested days on which to venerate persons and concepts associated with the promotion and preservation of religious freedom in the United States. See the Ritual Scripts section for one idea how how to celebrate these days–or come up with your own!
17: Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday
Benjamin Franklin was born on 17 January, 1706 in Boston, although he ran away to Philadelphia at the age of 17. Over his life, he was a diplomat, inventor, scientist, musician, composer, printer, writer, franchiser, speaker of five languages, awarded an honorary doctorate by Oxford University–not bad for the boy who dropped out of school at the age of ten!
On his birthday, honor the American spirit of practical independence and invention.
22: George Washington’s Birthday
George Washington was born on 22 February, 1732. Honor the Father of Our Country. Consider what unusual arrangements you have had to make for those you care about, and times you were particularly aware of leaving meaning and tradition in your wake.
Third Monday: President’s Day
Officially, this is the date on which to observe Washington’s Birthday (see 22 January, above), but over time this holiday has come to honor all of our presidents. Each year, honor a president who guarded or increased freedom.
Take this opportunity to pray for our current President and ask that s/he be blessed with inspiration, integrity, wisdom and historical awareness.
16: James Madison’s Birthday
James Madison was born 16 March, 1751. Not only our fourth President, this protégé of Thomas Jefferson was the man largely responsible for the authorship of the Constitution and one of the authors of the Federalist Papers that helped urged ratification of the then-radical Constitution. Most importantly to our ends, Madison was the author of the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the US Constitution that guarantee our essential civil liberties. Yet this was not all, for Madison’s presidency also encompassed the War of 1812, the only time the United States has had to deal with a land invasion in any real force since its inception. At his death in 1836, he was the last remaining signatory to the Constitution.
On his birthday, contemplate what legacy your words may leave behind you when you go.
13: Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday
Thomas Jefferson was born on 13 April, 1743. You may wish to re-read the Declaration of Independence (it sounds great out loud, particularly the accusations against King George) and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.
19: Patrick Henry’s Birthday
Patrick Henry was born on 29 May, 1736. He is remembered as another Virginia firebrand, although, again, as many figures of the period myth may have somewhat overshadowed reality. Still, his rhetoric kindled Virginia’s independence movement when milder words had not–and it is indisputable that Virginia’s support was essential to the Revolutionary effort.
After the War, Patrick Henry, as a leading Anti-Federalist, opposed the centralized Federal government offered by the proposed Constitution, and his voice, along with others among the Founding Fathers, formed an essential part of the Massachusetts Compromise that enabled states to ratify the Constitution if and only if amendments protecting these freedoms were submitted for Congress’s condieration should the Constitution be ratified.
Henry’s radical stances on many issues kept him strictly on the sidelines: he refused appointment to several high offices. His course was always his own, despite whatever party he may have been in over the course of his long career.
He shares a birthday with a famous American President who is also included on our list of holidays:
29: John F. Kennedy’s Birthday
Speaking of impassioned speeches, John F. Kennedy was also born on 29 May, but in 1917. Among his many decisive strides taken in favor of civil rights were those taken even before his election: JFK was the first Roman Catholic to have been elected President of the United States. If this does not seem an impressive achievement after so many years, consider what a group of conservative Protestant clergy and laymen calling themselves “Citizens for Religious Freedom” said in their statement regarding the Kennedy presidential campaign:
It is inconceivable that a Roman Catholic President would not be under extreme pressure by the hierarchy of his church to accede to its policies with respect to foreign relations… and otherwise breach the wall of separation of church and state.
Kennedy’s response, delivered as part of a speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on 12 September 1960, is certainly relevant here:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President–should he be Catholic–how to act and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote…. While this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been–and may someday be again–a Jew or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist… Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you–until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart.
It is important, however, to consider that JFK’s early, tentative stance on civil rights came from an earnest desire to work with Southern Democrat Congressmen rather than alienating them–a stance he maintained until it proved itself unworkable. Still, his insistence on finding reasonable solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems provides an excellent balance and counterpoint to Patrick Henry’s fiery, unwavering passion: it seems prudent to honor both on the birthday that both share.
On this day, then, consider these:
- What are you prepared to sacrifice for liberty?
- What inspires you to empassioned speeches and radical acts?
- When is it important to continue to reason with your adversaries, or take a politically expedient move over the promptings of your conscience?
- What can you do for your country?
Fourth Monday: Memorial Day
Honor those who have died for the United States in the Revolution and all our other wars. Consider what has (or has not!) been accomplished by the wars in which the US has taken part.
14: National Flag Day
On 14 June, 1777, the Second Continental Congress– the same body that had declared an independent United States a year an ten days previously–stated:
Resolved, That the flag of the United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new Constellation.
While Betsy Ross, a seamstress of Philadelphia, may or may not have made the first flag of this design according to a commission by General George Washington as she always told her children, it is certainly she who is considered the mother of our flag. While no symbolism was explicitly defined at its adoption, several are used today. Which has the most meaning to you?
4: Independence Day
Independence had actually been declared two days earlier, as a result of the acceptance of the following resolution proposed to the Second Continental Congress by Richard Henry Lee, delegate from Virginia:
Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.
That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.
That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.
Moreover, most delegates didn’t sign it as such until the famous copy now on display in the National Archives came back from the calligrapher’s on 2 August.
However, it was definitely on 4 July that the Declaration of Independence was approved and adopted by the Second Continental Congress, and it’s this day that is celebrated by, as John Adams wrote to wife Abigail (NB that the date of the Lee Resolution is used):
The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.
Only two of the Declaration’s signers went on to become president: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Eerily, they also died on the same day, exactly fifty years later: 4 July, 1826.
On this day, re-read the Declaration of Independence, and meditate on what to you, would be worth what the signers pledged with their signatures:
And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
30: John Adams’ Birthday
John Adams was born on 30 October, 1735, and there’s a great deal to say about him that, alas, Yr Webmistress has run out of time to say.
31: All Hallows’ Eve/Samhain/Winternights
On this night, seen by many religions as a time when the veils between the living and dead grow thin, spare a prayer for all those who have died to secure religious and other civil liberties in the United States–known and unknown.
Tuesday after the Second Monday: Election Day
11: Veteran’s Day
15: Bill of Rights Day
On 15 December, 1791, the Bill of Rights–first ten amendments to the United States Constitution–was ratified by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and as such went into effect across the whole country.
Today, re-read the Bill of Rights, and reflect on it applies to you.