David Randolph Smith

Thomas Jefferson's Birthday

  • 4/13/05: Thomas Jefferson was born April 13, 1743 in Albermarle County, Virginia. His writings and views on the wall of separation between Church & State have never been more relevant. In Van Orden v. Perry the Fifth Circuit upheld the public display of a Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol against a First Amendment establishment challenge. The U.S. Supreme Court, on March 2, 2005, heard oral arguments on the case. Thomas Jefferson staunchly argued in favor of the separation of Church & State and specifically rejected the notion that the Ten Commandments formed any basis for the common law.
    • "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with solemn reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church and State." Letter, January 1, 1802, by Thomas Jefferson to Messrs. Nehemiah Dodge and Others, a Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association, in the State of Connecticut. Thomas Jefferson, Writings p. 510 (Library of America, 1984).
    • "In matters of religion, I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the constitution independent of the powers of the general government. I have therefore undertaken on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercises suited to it ." Second Inaugural Address, Thomas Jefferson, Writings p. 519-520 (Library of America, 1984).
    • Jefferson argued Christianity had no part in the foundations of our laws. In a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper in 1814, Jefferson made the argument that the common law of England – the basis of the laws of the colonies – could not possibly have been influenced by Christianity, much less the Ten Commandments because the common law existed in England for 200 years before Christianity arrived there. He stated: “Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." Letter, Christianity and the Common Law, February 10, 1814, by Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Thomas Cooper, Thomas Jefferson, Writings p. 1325 (Library of America, 1984).
    • In our university [The University of Virginia] you know there is no Professorship of Divinity . . . In our annual report to the legislature, after stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of [encouraging each diffferent sect to have lectures]."Letter, Religion and the University, November 2, 1822 by Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Thomas Cooper, Thomas Jefferson, Writings p. 1465 (Library of America, 1984).