18 March 2012

Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptists

From the Library of Congress:
To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.


The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson
Jan. 1. 1802.
The context of the letter is discussed at U.S. Constitution Online.

A number of other relevant Founding Fathers/ Religion quotations have been compiled at The Unofficial Stephen Jay Gould Archive ("Refuting the Notion the US was founded on Christianity").


  1. Everyone knows about this letter... in some conversations it seems like it is a founding document alongside the Declaration of Independence.

    Sadly, very few seem to know about the 1804 letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Ursuline Sisters of New Orleans.

    In that letter Jefferson wrote "the principles of the constitution and the government of the United States are a sure guarantee [that your property] will be preserved to you sacred and inviolate, and that your institution will be permitted to govern itself according to it's own voluntary rules, without interference from the civil authority." ... "be assured [your religious institution] will meet all the protection which my office can give it."

    It only took 208 years for that promise to be broken.

    1. Broken promise? Not at all. In fact the Obama administration has honored it. No Catholic is being required to violate the teachings of the church, even if a super majority already do. The church continues to govern itself as it chooses and is not required to violate those teachings. They are exempt from the provisions that church affiliated institution's health care providers must follow, for employees who are not Catholic. In other words the church cannot impose it's teachings on people who are not Catholic because they happen to be employed by a Catholic institution, which is, I think, quite Jeffersonian.

    2. In addition, it is my understanding that such facilities as churches and other RELIGIOUS facilities are exempt from certain requirements. However, when we are talking about religious run hospitals (and perhaps schools and other places), you are talking about something altogether different. In those cases, they COMPETE with (and in some cases replace altogether) non-religiously affiliated business, and as such should be subject to the same rules.


  2. I'm reading "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern," by Stephen Greenblatt which is about the ancient poem, De rerum nature (On The Nature of Things) by Lucretius. Apparently, Thomas Jefferson owned 5 copies of it in Latin, as well as copies in French, English and Italian. The poem is based on Epicurean philosophy. Jefferson called himself an Epicurean, which may be why he included the phrase, "in the pursuit of Happiness" in the Constitution.


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