Separation of Church and State [National] (1802)


~ by James Still ~

Thomas Jefferson was an American Founding Father, author of the Declaration of Independence and America’s third president. In his First Inaugural Address, Jefferson encouraged citizens to be “enlightened by a benign [kind] religion…” and hoped God would, “lead our [government] councils to what is best…” The Danbury Baptists wrote Jefferson to warn him that some in government positions would seek “power and gain” and “make Laws to govern the Kingdom of Christ.” In his response, Jefferson described how the U.S. Constitution constructed a wall around our National government to prevent it from taking any action concerning religion. Jefferson understood freedom of religion was a matter of conscience and a natural right under the oversight of state or church officials.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State [National]. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802

James Still (Aug 2018),

“In our village of Charlottesville… We have four sects [doctrines], but without either church or meeting-house. The court-house is the common temple, one Sunday in the month to each. Here, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, meet together, join in hymning their Maker, listen with attention and devotion to each others’ preachers, and all mix in society with perfect harmony.” Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, November 2, 1822

“In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general [National] government. I have… left them, as the constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state or church authorities…” Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805

“… should we wander from [the Founding Principles]… let us hasten to retrace our steps and to regain the road which alone leads to peace, liberty, and safety.” Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801