Statute for Religious Freedom (Passed)

On this date in 1786, Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom passed. The preamble is a sweeping indictment of state-dictated religion, noting that "false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time" have been maintained through the church-state. "To compell a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical . . . our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry. . ." The heart of the Statute has been replicated in differing versions in most state constitutions (see quote below). So important was this Statute to Jefferson that he gave these instructions for the epitaph to be placed on his tombstone: "Thomas Jefferson/Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom & Father of the University of Virginia." Omitting his two terms as president, Jefferson wrote these were the "testimonials that I have lived [and by which] I wish most to be remembered."

“[T]hat 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.”

—Thomas Jefferson, The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, enacted on January 16, 1786

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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