Skip to content

VIDEO: Kaine Delivers Floor Speech on Religious Freedom Day



WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine delivered a speech on the Senate floor in commemoration of National Religious Freedom Day. The day honors the Virginia General Assembly’s passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom on January 16, 1786. This statute was first drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777 and became the basis of the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom. Kaine’s speech comes amid a sharp rise in antisemitism, Islamophobia, and threats to other faith-based communities.

“We have to guard, protect, and celebrate—not merely tolerate—a society where people of different religious faiths can live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools, work side by side, and do so as friends,” said Kaine. “We need a recommittal to the first freedom—religious liberty.”

“We’ve seen Jewish students harassed on campuses in recent months, following upon horrific violence directed against Jews in Charlottesville in 2017 and Pittsburgh in 2018. We’ve seen the bigotry-fueled murder of a six year-old Muslim boy in Illinois and the heartless shooting of three Palestinian college students in Burlington,” Kaine continued. “One troubling form of discrimination is targeting Americans for events happening elsewhere in the world. In Williamsburg, Virginia just a few weeks ago, a Jewish group was denied the ability to display a menorah at a local festival because organizers claimed that they didn’t ‘want to make it seem like we were choosing a side’ in the ongoing war in Gaza. American Jews celebrating Hanukkah here should not be blocked from a celebration of the season because of a war thousands of miles away.”

Kaine concluded his speech by suggesting ways that Americans can recommit to the principle of religious freedom. He said:

  1. “First, let’s take pride in our tradition of religious freedom and celebrate it today and every day. It’s made our society rich in faith traditions. By being authentically who we are, we can educate each other about religious beliefs and grow deeper in our own spiritual understanding.”
  2. “Second, let’s get better at tracking hate crimes and other forms of discrimination committed on the basis of religion. We passed the Khalid Jabara-Heather Heyer NO HATE ACT. Heather Heyer was the very, very remarkable young woman who was killed by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville in August 2017. I was proud to cosponsor that bill; we passed it in 2021 to provide training and implementation grants to help law enforcement agencies report and respond to hate crimes…Better measurement alone will not solve the problem, but the failure to accurately measure religious discrimination renders improvement very difficult.”
  3. “Third, let’s commit to increasing education about religious discrimination throughout our history and the reasons why America embraced the guarantee of religious freedom as our nation was founded.”
  4. “Fourth, let’s embrace a whole-of-government response to antisemitism by working to implement the recommendations contained in the U.S. National Strategy to Counter Antisemitism announced by the Biden Administration in June 2023.”
  5. “Finally, there are acts that we can each take as individuals to show we respect the religious beliefs of all... Stand together with those of all spiritual traditions against forces that would divide or harm us. And by doing so, let’s move closer to the ideal that America professed at our founding.”

Last November, Kaine and Senator Mark R. Warner wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Education (ED) urging them to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia on college and university campuses. In October, Kaine called on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to help prevent instances of antisemitism and Islamophobia. In 2022, Kaine successfully urged the Biden Administration to develop a national strategy to combat antisemitism. In June 2021, a bipartisan resolution condemning the global rise of antisemitism, which Kaine cosponsored, passed the Senate. In May 2021, Kaine helped pass the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which included provisions of his bill to improve hate crimes reporting and expand resources to victims of hate crimes. In June 2019, Kaine’s bipartisan resolution condemning all forms of antisemitism unanimously passed the Senate.