UU Minute #71

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

Thomas Jefferson called himself a Unitarian, and, after 1796, when Joseph Priestley founded a Unitarian church in Philadelphia, Jefferson attended when he was in town. And when he was at home in Monticello, he explained in a letter:
“The population of my neighborhood is too slender, and is too much divided into other sects to maintain any one preacher well. I must therefore be contented with being a Unitarian by myself.”
When Jefferson died, the instructions he left for his gravestone were that it say:
“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson, Author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia.”
He wanted to be remembered for just three things, and serving two terms as President of the United States – and doubling the area of the US with the Louisiana Purchase -- didn’t make the cut. But writing the Virginia Statute for religious freedom did.

Jefferson wrote the statute while serving in the Virginia House of Delegates and introduced it there in 1779. It failed to pass at that time, but a few years later, James Madison, then himself in the Virginia House of Delegates, revived Jefferson’s bill and got it enacted in 1786, while Jefferson was in Paris.

The Virginia Statue for religious freedom disestablished the Church of England in Virginia and provides that no person can be compelled to attend any church or support it with taxes. It says that an individual is free to worship as he pleases with no discrimination.

Once again, we see the link between the Unitarian outlook and insistence on religious tolerance.

In Massachusetts, however, forty years later towns were still taxing residents for the support of Protestant churches.

NEXT: Parish vs. Church in Massachusetts

No comments:

Post a Comment