Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito recently said that the U.S. is entering a period when its commitment to religious liberty is being tested. People vilify those of faith and cite Jefferson’s “wall of separation” as the basis for their anger. I have come to conclude that this is the most overused and least understood of his many quotations.
Although Jefferson had a disdain for most religions, he was a champion of religious freedom. Jefferson never sought to have religion far from the public square. On the contrary, he embraced it and protected it. He went so far as to write the Virginia Act Enabling Religious Freedom, which stated that “all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in no way diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.” He did not want another national religion as was the case in England.
Contrary to the modern interpretation of his “wall of separation,” Jefferson did not want federal interference in our religious freedom. That “wall” was directed to keep government out of religion, not the other way around. The theory that if we allow religion in government we will become a theocracy is irrational.
Ron Prykanowski, Ewing