Well, I have put this off long enough. It was time that I informed Ludwig about me and Daniel and the accident and, well, everything.
your friend & humble servnt.,
- TH. Jefferson
Well, I don't have much to add to this entry, so instead I offer the full text of a classic Jeffersonian writing that I read again recently, with my thoughts.
A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom
SECTION I. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our 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 exalt it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminals who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them.
SECTION II. We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
SECTION III. And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.
I feel this bill, which he introduced into Virginia legislature and was acted on in 1785, not only describes to a great degree Jefferson's feelings on religion, but it shows many key points in Jefferson's line of thinking about government itself. For instance, in Section III we see that Jefferson acknowledges that future generations of Virginians - having the same legislative authorities he had - could overturn even key points of legislation like this. However, he paints such acts as infringement of natural right, natural rights being that authority the people derive their power from, so to overturn a bill for religious freedom like this would be Jefferson's idea of bad government. Many would argue that Jefferson is a populist, who thinks the people should pass any laws they have the powers to pass, but from this bill you can clearly see that Jefferson stood by the principles of limited government, believing that even if a future generation could overturn laws designed to protect basic natural rights, that to do so would be an open infringement on the very basic principles that form our union. In that we can safely assume that Jefferson believed that not every power the government has should be a power enacted upon, whether the people want it or not.
Another key point we can take from this bill is that Jefferson believed, as his "Wall of Separation" letter outlines, that the functions of government and religious institutions are distinct and different. Jefferson clearly says here that truth only prevails when left to its own ends, which means government officials have no business using their station to make law of specific beliefs. Jefferson did believe in a god and he even thought, I believe, that it was the source of our natural rights. However, he did not see it as government's role to interpret this towards an end either in policy or legislation. Many see Jefferson's mention of god in the Declaration of Independence as an affirmation that religion has a central role in government. What Jefferson clearly says here is that religion has a central role in every man's life, and for that reason government should never interfere in it, even when it causes people to commit error (that being errors of faith and morality). He believes that such errors can only be corrected by rational discourse and debate, where the truth can freely contradict it. This attitude of Jefferson's stands against the idea of "sin" being a part of our legislative process, or the idea that our government should endorse any particular religious idea or institution, or even the god itself.