First Freedom Center

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The Valentine First Freedom Center
First Freedom Center
LocationRichmond, Virginia
TypeHistory museum

Coordinates: 37°32′8.3″N 77°25′56.4″W / 37.535639°N 77.432333°W / 37.535639; -77.432333 The First Freedom Center is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit located in Richmond, Virginia. Its mission is to commemorate and educate about freedom of religion and conscience as proclaimed in Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Located in the Shockoe Slip district of downtown Richmond, the Center sits on the site where Jefferson's statute was enacted into law by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786. Championed through the Virginia General Assembly by James Madison, the statute was the first law of absolute religious freedom enacted in the young nation and served as a template for the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would be ratified five years later (1791).

The Council for America’s First Freedom[edit]

The Council for America’s First Freedom formed in Richmond in 1984 to prepare for the 1986 bicentennial of the Jan. 16, 1786, ratification of the Statute.[1] The council registered the trademark for "First Freedom Center" with the US Patent office in 2003.[2]

First Freedom Awards[edit]

The First Freedom Center commemorates National Religious Freedom Day by an annual First Freedom Award presentation.[3] The three annual awards include a Virginia First Freedom Award as well as national and international awards [4]

Past recipients of the award include:

Opening of the Center[edit]

While educational and award activities happened for years, the Council pursued an actual "bricks and mortar" center for several years. In 2004, the center announced that groundbreaking for the center would occur in 2005 with doors to open in 2007.[6] After some delays, the First Freedom Center opened in January 2015 with a commemoration featuring Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones.[7] The FFC was taken over by The Valentine in July 2015.

Description of the Center[edit]

The First Freedom Center is connected to the newly finished Courtyard and Residence Inns by Marriott (and owned by Apple Hospitality[8] ) and features 2,200 square feet of installations that "delve into America's experience with religious liberty from its European roots through today" [9]

According to the Richmond Times Dispatch, "The museum features statues of Jefferson and James Madison, along with exhibits and displays that trace and celebrate America’s experiment with religious liberty, from the 1600s through today. One wall will feature changing exhibits that highlight current events related to religious freedom. Outside is a 27-foot spire and a wall etched with a paragraph of the 1786 statute, which laid the foundation for the religious freedom guaranteed in the Bill of Rights." [10]


  1. ^
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  3. ^ "The annual honors, awarded in Richmond, Va., by the First Freedom Center," ..."The awards are timed for Jan. 16, National Religious Freedom Day, the anniversary of the 1786 enactment of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. "
  4. ^ "BJC’s Walker recognized for advancing religious liberty" January 2011 "Walker was named the winner of the Virginia First Freedom Award, one of the three awards given annually by the education organization to recognize extraordinary advocates of religious freedom who have made remarkable contributions. The First Freedom Center also bestows International and National First Freedom Award"
  5. ^ "past recipients of First Freedom Awards include former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards and award-winning television documentary producers Bill and Judith Moyers."
  6. ^ "Virginia led way in colonial freedom of religion" By Charles Haynes The Morning Call January 21, 2004 "...January 2007. That's when the First Freedom Center is scheduled to open its doors on the very site where Jefferson's bill was adopted in Richmond, Va., in 1786. The organization building the center -- the Council for America's First Freedom -- promises to open "the premier religious-freedom educational institution in the United States -- indeed, the world -- championing the cause of religious freedom for all humankind. Groundbreaking for the center is still a year away, but the council isn't waiting for the building to begin promoting Jefferson's vision of religious liberty. Educational programs are already under way, and every January the council presents "First Freedom Awards," recognizing individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to the cause of religious freedom."
  7. ^ "First Freedom Center opens in downtown Richmond" Associated Press 3:19 p.m. EST January 17, 2015 "The center opened Friday with a commemoration featuring Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones."
  8. ^ "Apple Hospitality continues to thrive under Justin Knight's leadership" By RANDY HALLMAN September 13, 2015 "Apple Hospitality owns four Richmond-area hotels: Richmond Marriott on East Broad Street downtown, Courtyard by Marriott and Residence Inn by Marriott in a single complex in Shockoe Slip
  9. ^ Style Weekly Magazine Valentine Museum to Take Over First Freedom Center (Opening and commemoration of historic site for Friday, Jan. 16.)" by Brent Baldwin Jan 9, 2015 "As of July 1, the Valentine museum will become the parent of the First Freedom Center."
  10. ^ "First Freedom Center Opening and Commemoration " By JOHN RAMSEY RTD January 16, 2015

External links[edit]