Legacy of Freedom: Jefferson, Madison and the Nation's Founders Left Us Church-State Separation. Can We Keep It? (Special Book Excerpt)

By Boston, Rob | Church & State, January 2003 | Go to article overview

Legacy of Freedom: Jefferson, Madison and the Nation's Founders Left Us Church-State Separation. Can We Keep It? (Special Book Excerpt)


Boston, Rob, Church & State


Thomas Jefferson excelled as a political leader and architect of religious liberty, but he was a lousy prophet.

Jefferson once predicted that Unitarianism would become the dominant religion in the United States. He also believed the country would remain a largely agrarian society; he never foresaw the rise of sprawling urban metropolises.

What if Jefferson could see America today--a nation of 270 million people, the world's sole remaining superpower? What would he think?

Jefferson might have a lot to say about American foreign policy, economic strategy and even American popular culture. He would probably also have strong opinions about the state of religious liberty in America. I can't say what he would think about the other issues, but if Jefferson were to look at religious freedom in America today, I believe he would be pleased.

During his lifetime, Jefferson spoke eloquently about the need for religious liberty for all people--not just Christians. He would be delighted to see an America that has welcomed Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Wiccans, non-believers and others. He would be pleased by the diversity among the Christian denominations as well. The Sage of Monticello would be happy to see these groups living side by side in peace.

Jefferson was a strong advocate of the idea that there must never be force or coercion in matters of religion. If you visit the Jefferson Memorial in Washington today, you will see chiseled on the wall a famous quote from Jefferson: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

Jefferson made that statement in reaction against ultra-conservative religious leaders in New England who opposed him politically and opposed his views on church-state separation. Any assertion that Jefferson would find common cause with today's Religious Right is laughable. Not only would Jefferson disagree with Religious Right theology, he would adamantly oppose its political views and agenda. Jefferson would recognize today's Religious Right as the spiritual descendants of the narrow-minded clergy he swore "eternal hostility" against so long ago. He would treat the Religious Right with similar disdain.

Unfortunately, too many American political leaders today, while pretending to honor Jefferson's legacy in speeches, labor to tear it down through their actions. Jefferson's wall of separation is under assault--and not just from the Religious Right. Political leaders and judges have joined the attack.

Jefferson was the author of the Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest testaments to human liberty ever penned. More than 220 years after it was written, the Declaration still inspires oppressed people today. If that was all Jefferson had ever done, his name would still ring down through the ages--but of course he did much more: Jefferson served as ambassador to France, governor of Virginia and president of the United States. He founded the University of Virginia and authored Virginia's Statute for Religious Liberty.

Jefferson was a prodigious thinker with an innate curiosity about the world around him. He was a man of keen intellect. Religious freedom undergirded by the separation of church and state is just one of his legacies to the American people.

Attacks on separation of church and state assail the legacy of James Madison as well. Madison is one of the most important founders, but his contributions are often overlooked and tend to be overshadowed by his less-than successful presidency.

Jefferson could write quite eloquently about religious freedom and the need for church-state separation, but in many ways it was Madison who perfected the concept. Madison's prose in the Memorial and Remonstrance--his famous attack on church taxes in Virginia--is workmanlike and to the point. It's less flowery than what Jefferson would have penned. But Madison's words did the trick and turned back a dangerous bill.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Legacy of Freedom: Jefferson, Madison and the Nation's Founders Left Us Church-State Separation. Can We Keep It? (Special Book Excerpt)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.