In light of the remarkable
events and changes that have overtaken America, it seemed appropriate to
solicit the views of one of America’s greatest men and the author of our
Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. He was kind enough to grant
a few moments of time.
Thank you for visiting with us, Mr. Jefferson. Your sentiments expressed
in your letter to the Danbury Baptists (who were chafing at government interference
in their religious activities) regarding a wall of separation between church
and state have created considerable controversy today.
Did you mean that no religious expression be allowed at any level of government,
or that the federal government has no authority over the exercise of religion?
Your letter was a bit confusing, since as governor of Virginia you signed
a number of religiously oriented proclamations. Would you elaborate?
In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise
is placed by the Constitution independent of the power of the federal government.
I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises
suited to it; but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the
direction of state or church authorities acknowledged by the several religious
How would this apply to the recent situation in which the state of Alabama
was enjoined by the federal government from displaying a monument to the
Ten Commandments in the state courthouse?
I consider the government of the United States as interdicted
by the Constitution from intermeddling in religious institutions, their doctrines,
discipline, or exercises. This results not only from the provision that no
law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion,
but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated
to the United States. Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise
or to assume authority in religious discipline has been delegated to the
In your opinion, then, should this have been a matter left solely to the state Alabama and its citizens?
It must rest with the States, as far as it can be in any human authority.
Increasingly, American citizens are forbidden to express religious views
while in civil government or public education. In light of the comments you
just made, do you consider this proper?
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. In neither picks my pocket nor breaks my
Mr. Jefferson, is the increasing activism of our federal judiciary, not only
to interpret law but also to actually make law, dangerous to our liberty?
It has long…been my opinion, and I have never shrunk from
its expression...that the germ of dissolution of our federal government is
in the constitution of the federal Judiciary...working like gravity by night
and by day, gaining a little today and a little tomorrow, and advancing its
noiseless step like a thief, over the field of jurisdiction, until all shall
Many today complain that the judiciary has unconstitutionally intruded into
matters of religion and its exercise in the public square. What is your opinion
To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into
the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles
on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once
destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that
tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn
the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his
A goodly number of citizens are compelled to pay for the expression of political
opinions with which they disagree -- for example, in labor unions and through
National Public Radio, which is supported by taxes. Is this acceptable?
To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the
propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical;
that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious
persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions
to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose
powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness.
Thank you for your courtesy, Mr. Jefferson. Do you have any final word for us?
Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
Dennis Campbell is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to Internet and print publications.