Jefferson felt that one of his life’s greatest achievements was writing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a type of forerunner to our First Amendment with its guarantee of religious freedom. What is interesting about this document is that he bases our freedom on a theological foundation. He writes: “Almighty God hath created the mind free . . . all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments . . . are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet choose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to exalt it by its influence on reason alone. . . .”[1]

Some modern commentators cite quotes of Jefferson from many years later, in a more unorthodox phase of his life, to suggest that Jesus wasn’t necessarily the “holy author of our religion.” But even then in 1817 he wrote that “We do not claim these [rights] under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings.” Who else could it be? No one else but Jesus is spoken of this way; is both Lord of body and mind.

[1] Bills Reported by the Committee of Revisors, 1779, [see bills 82-87], www.founders.archives.gov. Actually,

Jefferson’s initial draft did not begin with a reference to God but opened as follows: “Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed in their minds. . . .” The General Assembly replaced this with the famous opening words it has today. But Jefferson never distanced himself from this modification.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *