Tag Archives: Religious Freedom

Free Exercise – Within Reason

Thomas Jefferson was the author of religious freedom in America… as the First Amendment borrows its language from his Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.  Like all men of the Enlightenment, Jefferson believed it was built upon the individual.  The individual was born free to worship, or not, in anyway he saw fit.

“…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 no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

Author of Religious Freedom

Jefferson clearly draws the line between the public citizen and his private religious beliefs… the freedom to worship remained a private decision- not to be propagated in the public sphere.  Jefferson acknowledged the dangers of a state-sponsored religion, but he also realized that religious zealotry could threaten civil liberties.

 

He cautioned his friend, James Madison:

“The declaration that religious faith shall be unpunished does not give immunity to criminal acts dictated by religious error.”

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On Religion

Jefferson believed religious conflicts were the fault of theological teachings… not the people practicing faith.

As the crisis over Muslim immigration to America intensifies, both sides look to Jefferson to defend their positions.  Former President Obama’s claim that Jefferson helped enshrine Islam into our national fabric is blatant exaggeration.  President Trump’s allies are equally mistaken portraying Jefferson as an anti-Islamic warrior. 

Author of Religious Freedom

Author of Religious Freedom

Jefferson’s problems with Islam were philosophical… for he believed the faith to be anti-science and irrationally intolerant to open inquiry.

“I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another’s creed. I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives…For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read. By the same test the world must judge me.”

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The belief in religious freedom does not excuse its transgressions… Jefferson explained to friend and ally, James Madison.

 

“The declaration that religious faith shall be unpunished does not give immunity to criminal acts dictated by religious error.”

 

 

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