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Celebrating religious freedom
Secularists mark Religious Freedom Week

 Lori Lipman Brown (left), director of the Secular Coalition for America, stands next to Steven Edenbo, Thomas Jefferson historian and interpreter, and Lyn Pagett, event coordinator for the Rappahannock Colonial Heritage Society.
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Date published: 1/27/2009

For secularists, Fredericksburg's Religious Freedom Week's premier event took place Jan. 17 on the campus of the University of Mary Washington.

The Washington Area Secular Humanists, WASH, held their annual Winter Dinner in Seacobeck Hall.

The main attraction was Thomas Jefferson, portrayed by nationally recognized Jefferson historian and interpreter, Steven Edenbo. Edenbo reminded attendees of Jefferson's religious skepticism.

Another featured speaker was Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition for America and the first Congressional lobbyist representing the interests of non-theistic Americans. Brown spoke on developments relating to the separation of religion and government since Jefferson's day, especially in the past eight years.

Also featured were members of the Rappahannock Colonial Heritage Society, portraying residents of 18th-century Fredericksburg and performing period dances.

Fredericksburg's Religious Freedom Week activities, commemorating the anniversary of the signing of the Virginia Statute For Religious Freedom, appeal to diverse audiences.

Those who are religious celebrate the statute's insuring that their denomination is not slighted by a state-sanctioned religion different from their own. Secularists appreciate not being compelled by the state to support any religion.

The statute was drafted by Jefferson and others in Fredericksburg in 1779 and enacted into law by the Virginia General Assembly, Jan. 16, 1786. The Statute for Religious Freedom is one of only three accomplishments Jefferson instructed be included in his epitaph.