Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Thomas Jefferson's Utopian Experiment
Thomas Jefferson's Utopian Experiment: In what was perhaps the greatest sentence ever written, Thomas Jefferson composed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1779. When it later passed the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, after support from James Madison and a large constituency of Baptists, it marked the first law of religious freedom in all of Western civilization. In the statue, Jefferson put forth a simple, but effective argument for religious freedom in republican societies. Given that "Almighty God hath created the mind free," then it was only natural to make religious worship a free and open practice. He realized that the worst kind of tyranny occurred when religion and government worked hand-in-hand to create a theocracy. State-imposed religion curtailed man's free will. Now it is important to remember that Jefferson drafted this statute during the Revolutionary War. There was no guarantee that the American confederation would survive the British onslaught. Even so, after securing an alliance with France in 1778 and winning a mere three out of nine major battles, the Continental Army persevered on its way to eventual victory over Britain. Aside from the military campaign, Jefferson's statue represented an alternative course in the ideology of republicanism. It allowed for the creation of a wall that separated religion and government. Thus, Jefferson's statute was simultaneously a gateway to secularization and symbol of common sense.