THOMAS JEFFERSON ON CHURCH & STATE

WHAT THOMAS JEFFERSON SAID

About religious freedom and the government 

In a letter to a friend Jefferson said that his words about the rights of conscience were constantly being misinterpreted. That certainly is true now.“This I now send you as the only discharge of my promise I can probably ever execute.  And in confiding it to you, I know it will not be exposed to the malignant perversions of those who make every word from me a text for new misrepresentations and calumnies. I am more over averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public, because  it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquisition over the rights of conscience which the laws have so justly proscribed.”             Letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush 1811

What Jefferson said about the compatibility of religion and government, the opposite of separation of church & state:

“We have solved by fair experiment the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.” (Letter to the Virginia Baptists, 1808).

Not only compatible but Christianity is government’s best support:

“Among the most inestimable of our blessings is that…of liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will; a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.” (Reply to Baptist Address, 1807)

Intention to protect the church from the government, not the government from the church:

“No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the conscience of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose.” (Letter to Methodist Episcopal Church, New London, Connecticut, Feb. 4, 1809). His letter to Danbury Baptist convention (1802) applied the phrase “wall of separation” to this point, protection of the church.

Independent of the power of the federal government: (Not non-present)

“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the power of the federal government. I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it; but have left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction of state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious societies.”

(Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address).

The constitution gives no power to any public functionaries to injure these rights:

“In justice, too, to our excellent Constitution, it ought to be observed, that it has not placed our religious rights under the power of any public functionary. The power, therefore, was wanting, not less than the will, to injure these rights.” (Letter to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church at Pittsburg, Dec. 9, 1808).

 

The constitution’s first amendment:

“Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

 

Congress legislated “separation of church & state” in Jefferson’s name. 

Thomas Jefferson would roll over in his grave.


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