Because of a misreading of Thomas Jefferson on the matter of church and state, many officials today have converted the freedom-of-religion clauses of our Constitution into freedom-from-religion clauses. Last week we told the story about the lady kicked off a public bus for mentioning God in a conversation (with someone who was asking her about her church).
Jerry remembers another story where a girl got an F on a history paper she wrote in her public high school. Initially she had permission to write about Jesus of Nazareth, but then the teacher changed her mind and disallowed it—while permitting other students to write about subjects related to other religions or the occult. And this discrimination was done because of the supposed separation of church and state.
One time in the 1990s a federal judge in Texas said to students at a graduation celebration (that was actually sponsored by a group of ministers) that if any of them prayed in the name of Jesus at that service, he would have them arrested and thrown in jail for a minimum of 6 months. The judge said, “Anyone who violates this order, no kidding, is going to wish that he or she had died as a child when this Court gets through with it.” Somehow we don’t think this is what the founders intended—certainly not Thomas Jefferson or James Madison. Yet Jefferson is the person most often cited for the reasoning of many modern secularist advocates.
What did Thomas Jefferson himself really believe about God and the Bible? And more importantly what were his policies and actions when it comes to religion and its relation to government and education? Various groups strongly assert what they think he would have said about issues of faith and public policy. But we think there is more nuance to it and that complexity is important for us to understand.
To this goal we offer this our contribution—DOUBTING THOMAS: THE RELIGIOUS LIFE AND LEGACY OF THOMAS JEFFERSON.