The Jefferson of History Was Not the Jefferson of the ACLU

The book, DOUBTING THOMAS by Mark Beliles and Jerry Newcombe, shows that our third president and founding father Thomas Jefferson was not a lifelong skeptic and was not someone who wanted to banish God from the public square. The Thomas Jefferson of history was not the Thomas Jefferson of the ACLU. Here is a short snippet from our book…during a period after he left the presidency.

Just a quick note: as president, Jefferson regularly attended the Christian worship services that took place in the U.S. Capitol. He was a lifelong church-attender, when it was available to him. In 1777, he helped found a gospel-preaching church, the Calivinistical Reformed Church of Charlottesville. He donated heavily to Christian causes. He was a regular reader of the Bible. Our book, DOUBTING THOMAS, documents these things…and also the fact that later in life he developed some serious doubts about some core Christian doctrines.

In late 1813 Jefferson also wrote John Adams, saying “…The law for religious freedom…[in Virginia has] put down the aristocracy of the clergy and restored to the citizen the freedom of the mind.” This shows that Jefferson no longer viewed clergy in Virginia in the same way he viewed those in New England, where state-favored denominations still existed. In fact, Jefferson only once in his entire life had mentioned a critical remark about Episcopal clergy in Virginia, and in his lifetime not a single Virginia clergyman (that we’re aware of ) ever criticized or questioned Jefferson’s religion. Unfortunately, Jefferson’s criticism of state-established and law-religion (as Lorenzo Dow* had described them) clergy quotes are used over and over by modern commentators without the contextualized narrow focus and other counterbalancing facts, and thus perpetuate a distorted image of Jefferson’s anti-clericalism.

Jefferson wrote to Philadelphia bookseller Nicholas G. Dufief on April 19, 1814, with concern over a case up north where the sale of a book was being prosecuted: “I am really mortified to be told that, in the United States of America…a question about the sale of a book can be carried before the civil magistrate. Is this then our freedom of religion? …Is a priest to be our inquisitor, or shall a layman, simple as ourselves, set up his reason as the rule for what we are to read, and what we must believe? …If [this] book be false in its facts, disprove them; if false in its reasoning, refute it. But, for God’s sake, let us freely hear both sides, if we choose;…” Since Virginia’s law on religious freedom was adopted, such incidents almost never occurred.

*Lorenzo Dow was an evangelist and a friend of Jefferson’s. He’s been described as the Billy Graham of his day.

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