I May Be A Queer, But I Love Thomas Jefferson

The error seems not sufficiently eradicated that the operations of the mind as well as the acts of the body are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” –Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XVII, 1782. ME 2:221  

“I am… 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.” –Thomas Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, 1803. ME 10:380

“I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to Him, and not to the priests.” –Thomas Jefferson to Mrs. M. Harrison Smith, 1816. ME 15:60

“I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance or admit a right of inquiry into the religious opinions of others.” –Thomas Jefferson to Edward Dowse, 1803. ME 10:378

“I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines; nor of the religious societies, that the General Government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting and prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them, an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises and the objects proper for them according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands where the Constitution has deposited it… Everyone must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.” –Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Miller, 1808. ME 11:429

Whenever… preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science.” –Thomas Jefferson to P. H. Wendover, 1815. ME 14:281

“No religious reading, instruction or exercise, shall be prescribed or practiced [in the elementary schools] inconsistent with the tenets of any religious sect or denomination.” –Thomas Jefferson: Elementary School Act, 1817 ME 17:425

“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” –Thomas Jefferson to Jeremiah Moor, 1800.

“I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America, a fact like this [i.e., the purchase of an apparent geological or astronomical work] can become a subject of inquiry, and of criminal inquiry too, as an offense against religion; that a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? and are we to have a censor whose imprimatur shall say what books may be sold, and what we may buy? And who is thus to dogmatize religious opinions for our citizens? Whose foot is to be the measure to which ours are all to be cut or  stretched? Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? It is an insult to our citizens to question whether they are rational beings or not, and blasphemy against religion to suppose it cannot stand the test of truth and reason. If [this] book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose.” –Thomas Jefferson to N. G. Dufief, 1814. ME 14:127

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” –Thomas Jefferson to Horatio G. Spafford, 1814. ME 14:119

“Our civil rights have no dependence upon our religious opinions more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” –Thomas Jefferson: Statute for Religious Freedom, 1779. ME 2:301, Papers 2:545

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