First Freedom Center (formerly the Council for America’s First Freedom), the organization founded in 1984 by local historians and civic leaders to commemorate Virginia’s leading role in shaping the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, will become part of the Valentine, effective July 1, 2015.
The nonprofit, non-sectarian and politically neutral organization created by noted authors and historians Virginius Dabney, Robert A. Rutland and Saul Viener (all deceased) and others seeks recognition for the efforts of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison in the cause of religious freedom.
First drafted by Jefferson in 1777, the statute declares that “Almighty God hath created the mind free” and stated that no person can be compelled to attend any church or support it with his taxes.
It further noted that no one could be discriminated against because of his “opinion in matters of religion.”
Jefferson said getting his statute through the Virginia legislature was the toughest political battle of his life, Dabney wrote in 1987.
Virginia’s first and sixth governor, Patrick Henry, led the opposition to the statute’s passage in 1785, but it was James Madison, assisted by George Mason, who got the bill through the Virginia Assembly while Jefferson was Minister to France. Madison’s petition towards those efforts, “Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments,” is considered one of America’s most important documents.
The bill became law at the temporary headquarters of the Virginia Assembly, at 14th and E. Cary Sts. – the site of the new Center for Religious Freedom that opens on Jan. 16, 2015, National Religious Freedom Day.
The 2,200-sq.-ft.-exhibit space denoting America’s experience with religious liberty is connected to the “Residence Inn by Marriott Richmond Downtown” and will be open daily.
“With its attention to Richmond’s history and its goal of preserving and interpreting our story, the Valentine is the ideal organization to manage the Center and fulfill the mission of FFC
founders,” said FFC Board President Dr. Ben Howerton.
“We can envision that the FFC will be a fascinating stop on the Valentine’s excellent and popular guided walking and bus tours,” he added.
According to Valentine Director Bill Martin, “Our stewardship of the First Freedom Center adds to the wealth of the historic resources available to residents and visitors and provides another venue
to tell the evolving stories of the City. For us, it is always about finding new and innovative ways to connect our history to the issues facing our community.
PLEASE NOTE: Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Mayor Dwight C. Jones will make remarks at the official Jan. 16, 2015 opening.
Executive Director, First Freedom Center
Public Relations & Marketing Director
804-649-0711 ext. 322
From the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom
Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, retrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
The Valentine preserves, conserves and interprets Richmond, Virginia history and diverse community issues by focusing on urban and social history, costumes, decorative arts and architecture. It is the only institution in the country committed solely to this mission and it is accredited by the American Alliance of Museums. It houses a 40,000-piece collection of textiles and costumes, one of the largest Western collections of its kind. The Valentine maintains more than one million photographic images of the city, and 25,000 decorative arts pieces, including portraits, furniture and domestic items. Its research library provides primary source material for national and international scholars. The Valentine-owned 1812 John Wickham House is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks.
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