U.S. President Barack Obama said his administration "is working to preserve religious liberty and enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom" in a statement the White House released on the occasion of the 23rd annual Religious Freedom Day in the U.S. on Saturday.
However, some Christians expressed doubts on the president's sincerity, saying that his administration is actually infringing on religious rights.
"Since our country's founding, religious freedom has been heralded as one of our most cherished ideals," Obama said in his proclamation, according to Christian News.
"The right to practice religion freely has brought immigrants from all over the world to our shores, often in the face of great adversity, so they could live their lives in accordance with the dictates of their consciences," he continued. "Some of America's earliest settlers, the Pilgrims, arrived at our shores in search of a more tolerant society, free from religious persecution."
Obama said the White House has been working to protect the freedoms of Americans of all religions, and vowed to continue to do so.
"[M]y Administration is working to preserve religious liberty and enforce civil rights laws that protect religious freedom—including laws that protect employees from religious discrimination and require reasonable accommodation of religious practices on the job," he said.
However, some Christian leaders expressed concern over the Obama administration's infringements upon religious rights.
Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis said Saturday could have instead been dubbed "Religious Erosion Day."
"Sadly, Christians are increasingly being punished for standing on God's Word and living according to our beliefs based on the Bible. We're seeing this happen over and over again—usually in regard to gay 'marriage' and the sanctity of life," he wrote on a blog post. "Christians are being forced to affirm gay 'marriages,' and Christian organisations and companies are being told they better provide abortion services and medical insurance that includes abortive contraceptives and even abortion—or else!"
"In a recent address Obama even said that gay 'marriage' trumps religious freedom!" Ham said. "He doesn't really support religious freedom for everyone—he supports his own definition of freedom, one that increasingly excludes Bible-believing Christians from these protections and imposes an anti-God religion on the culture."
Nevertheless, Ham exhorted Christians to be thankful for the liberties that they still have.
The celebration of Religious Freedom Day goes way back over a century ago, when a landmark piece of legislation called "Virginia Statute Establishing Religious Freedom" was passed, according to Fox News.
The 1786 statute, authored and championed by would-be Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, stated that "no man shall be . . . restrained, molested, or burthened 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 . . . their opinion in matters of religion . . . ."
The Virginia Statute also declared that "to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical."
The wording of this piece of legislation became a template for the Religion Clauses in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution a few years later.
Although the principle of the state's respect for freedom of religion was already established during the 16th century, the first official celebration of Religious Freedom Day only happened 1993, following Congress' nearly-unanimous passage of another landmark bill, the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
This act called on "all Americans to observe this day . . . as an expression of our gratitude for the blessings of liberty and as a sign of our resolve to protect and preserve them."