Friday, January 25, 2008

Jefferson's Actions Speak Louder than a Few of His Words

Of course Thomas Jefferson is now famous for a few words he once used in a letter to the Danbury Baptists ("wall of separation between church and state"). This is a much-discussed quote. Did he mean that religion must never associate with government and vice versa? Or did he mean to assure the Baptists that the new Federal Government had no power to create a national religion that might disadvantage the Baptists?

Let's leave that discussion to some of the other posts here and elsewhere and consider Jefferson's actual deeds.

Federal Actions:

On three separate occasions President Jefferson signed into law extensions of the land grant the federal government had given especially to promote education and proselytism among the Indians.

State Actions:

Jefferson was the founder of the University of Virginia. From its inception in 1819, the school was governed, managed, and controlled by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In order to accommodate and perpetuate the religious beliefs and practices of students at the university, he recommended that students be allowed to meet on the campus to pray, worship, and receive religious instruction, or, if necessary, to meet and pray with their professors.

He provided in his regulations for the University of Virginia that the main rotunda be used for religious worship under the regulations allowed to be prescribed by law.

He proposed that all University of Virginia students be required to study as a matter of ethics "the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all relations within morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer."

Other Actions

When Congress first authorized public schools for the nation's capitol, the first president of the Washington, D.C. School Board was Jefferson. He was the chief author of the first plan of public education adopted for the city of Washington. The first official report on file indicates that the Bible and the Watts Hymnal were the first, and in fact only, books in use for reading by the public school students.

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