“Each year on JANUARY 16, we celebrate Religious Freedom Day in commemoration of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” wrote President George W. Bush in his 2003 Proclamation.
Jefferson’s Article of Religious Freedom, which he commemorated on his tombstone, was passed JANUARY 16, 1786, in the Virginia Assembly. In his draft, Jefferson wrote:
Almighty God hath created the mind free, and … all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments … tend only to begat habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone.
In his Second Inaugural Address, 1805, Jefferson wrote:
In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government.
In 1808, Jefferson wrote to Samuel Miller:
I consider the government of the United States as prohibited by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises … 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.
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.