[File photo by Jerry Newcombe, in New Orleans at the Ursuline Convent, highlighting a pro-religious freedom letter that our third president wrote to that group of nuns, assuring them of continued religious freedom]
In our book, Doubting Thomas, we show a nuanced picture of the faith of Thomas Jefferson. We disagree with the extreme, represented by the likes of Christopher Hitchens, to identify Jefferson as an atheist who wanted state-sanctioned atheism. But we would also disagree with the idea that he was a complete orthodox Christian. By his own admission, at least later in life, Jefferson believed that the original Christian faith, as given by Jesus, had been corrupted. But he would see the Apostle Paul as one of the big corrupters. How can any true Christian agree with that?
One of the questions we need to ask ourselves is: What kind of public policies did Jefferson advocate when it comes to religion? His private doubts are one thing. His public policies are something else.
From his public policies, we see he believed in:
*God-given rights, which are not negotiable
*religious freedom to be right (or wrong)—it’s not up to the state to decide
*no establishment on one particular religion (or Christian sect) over any other
*freedom for Christian expression in the public arena, in ways that didn’t cross the line into “establishing religion.” The state church was “by law established.” To the founders, establishing religion meant creating a state-religion. The founders themselves often mentioned God or the Bible in state functions and assemblies. That did not mean they were establishing Christianity as the state religion. Essentially, their goal in the establishment clause of the first amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”) was to avoid any one denomination lording it over the others.
Today, we are systematically having our religious freedom stripped away. Much of this is essentially happening in Thomas Jefferson’s name.