Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Jefferson on Religious Freedom

A recent familial debate left me reviewing my copy of Thomas Jefferson's autobiography and letters. Following are comments from Jefferson's autobiography his Bill for Religious Freedom drafted for the Virginia legislature in 1777. Finally passed in 1786, he considered this precursor to the First Amendment one of his greatest achievements.

"[When] the [Virginia] bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion." The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination." --Thomas Jefferson: Autobiography, 1821. ME 1:67, Modern Library edition p. 45-46.


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