01 April 2012

Thomas Jefferson re religious freedom

Excerpts from "The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom":
Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness—and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time...

...that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy of the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it...

...that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on the supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty...

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly: That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess—and by argument to maintain—their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
The full text is posted in the current issue of Lapham's Quarterly.


  1. I just finished reading Stephen Greenblatt's book, "The Swerve: How the World Became Modern." In it Dr. Greenblatt tells about the re-discovery of the poem by the Ancient Roman, Lucretius, "On the Nature of Things."

    Thomas Jefferson owned 5 copies of the poem, which is about Epicurean philosophy ("...the pursuit of Happiness"). In a letter to William Short in 1819 he wrote: "I too am an Epicurean."

    Even if Jefferson were not an Epicurean, he certainly had an open mind, and he was not averse to science; so it makes sense that he would want greater religious freedom.

  2. I devoutly wish that all politicians would read this and take it to heart. The Republican presidential nomination seekers seem to want to do away with freedom of religion and impose their own beliefs on the rest of us.


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