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Monday, October 27, 2008

The Virginia Statute

In doing some research work on early American texts, I came across a new one to me, The Virginia Statute, and it seems to be one that has been airbrushed out of modern thinking.

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is both a statement about freedom of conscience and the principle of separation of church and state. Written by Thomas Jefferson and passed by the Virginia General Assembly on January 16, 1786, the Statute is the forerunner of the first amendment protections for religious freedom. Divided into three paragraphs, the statute is a statement of Jefferson's philosophy.
The first paragraph is both a statement of natural right and Jefferson's deism -- that is, the belief that God created the world and along with it, man's capacity to rule himself. Deists believe that although God is the creator, He is not actively involved in worldly affairs. God has granted individuals freedom of conscience in religious matters and any attempt to limit or restrict it is wrong.

I. Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burdens, or by civil incapacitation's, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do . . .

The second paragraph is the act itself, which states that no person can be compelled to attend any church or support it with his taxes. It says that an individual is free to worship as he pleases with no discrimination.

II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened 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 opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

The third paragraph reflects Jefferson's belief in the people's right, through their elected assemblies, to change any law. Here, Jefferson states that this statute is not irrevocable because no law is (not even the Constitution). Future assemblies that choose to repeal or circumscribe the act do so at their own peril, because this is "an infringement of natural right." Thus, Jefferson articulates his philosophy of both natural right and the sovereignty of the people.

III. And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the act of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such as would be an infringement of natural right.

I particularly like the First Line that I have highlighted; Almighty God hath created the mind FREE. Seems old Thom might have had some original KMSA thinking going on back there, even though he did hang onto his slaves at Montecello a bit longer than he should.

Still, I shouldn't be mean about him, at least he got the ball rolling, and as another great American President, Roosevelt, once said;

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly".

Sir Dayvd ( in the arena, failing while daring greatly ) of Oxfordshire


  1. Jefferson is certainly one of the most complicated men in world history -- and certainly one of the most important.

    I believe that, as many philosophers have stated, "live is not of process of discovery, but a process of creation."

    We each have the free will to create our lives. Of course, there is the law of "cause and effect" and consequences for our actions.

    A lot of politicians here are fond of ending their speeches with, "God bless America." Perhaps it would be better to "America, bless God and bless ourselves"?

    Sir Bowie of Greenbriar

  2. Going to Monticello one sees the understated genius that was Thomas Jefferson. One of my favorite historical American figures and President's, Old Tom had a mind that was ahead of its time. In fact, it's still ahead of our time. Fundamentalism has taken over not only in the middle east, but also in the good ole' U S of A.

    It takes a brave man, one of sound character and resolve, who can embrace the philosophy and belief's of Thomas Jefferson. I for one, remain hopeful that we will rediscover the true greatness that he personified and use it to rebuild into a great nation again after the Dubya years.

    A mind that is free is a mind that is energized! I also dare say that a free mind is the greatest way to honor the Creator.

    May we continue to dare to dream, to express those dreams and to succeed to bring those dreams to reality on our own merits as it was always intended to be!

    Sir Hook the Deist of Warrick