On January 1, 1802, President Thomas Jefferson received a thirteen-foot mammoth cheese weighing some 1,200 pounds. It was delivered by dissenting Baptist minister and long-time advocate of religious liberty, Reverend John Leland, who then preached a sermon to the president and members of Congress at the Capitol two days later. Jefferson took the opportunity to compose a letter to the Danbury Baptists on the relationship between government and religion that would shape the course of twentieth-century jurisprudence. Read more
America’s Founding generation well understood the principle that, in order to maintain individual liberty and freedom of conscience, civil government must be limited in its purpose and its power. They also knew the history of widespread and bloody religious conflict behind that principle. At the same time, many Americans believed that government should support religion because religion promoted virtuous lives and nurtured the social order needed for self-government. Balancing these concerns was a matter of great significance. Read more
Jefferson asked to be remembered on his tombstone as author of the Declaration of Independence, father of the University of Virginia, and author of this law. Long delayed because of the contentiousness of the subject and the powerful interests arrayed against it, the Virginia Statute was drafted in 1777, introduced as a bill in the 1779 legislative session, and adopted in 1786. Eventually the laws of all thirteen original states would prohibit an established church and guarantee religious liberty to all.
January 16, 1786
I. Well aware that the opinions and belief of men Read more