Monday, September 15, 2008

Jefferson Attends Church in the U.S. Capitol

Regular readers know that I often mention Thomas Jefferson in my posts. This is mostly because his metaphor "separation of church and state" is the one quoted by the courts and others in limiting religious expression. I believe that his feelings are misunderstood in today's conventional wisdom.

Consider this from the Library of Congress, which discusses a particular worship service held in the U.S. Capitol:

Jefferson at Church in the Capitol
In his diary, Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), a Federalist Congressman from Massachusetts and Congregational minister, notes that on Sunday, January 3, 1802, John Leland preached a sermon on the text "Behold a greater than Solomon is here. Jef[ferso]n was present." Thomas Jefferson attended this church service in Congress, just two days after issuing the Danbury Baptist letter. Leland, a celebrated Baptist minister, had moved from Orange County, Virginia, and was serving a congregation in Cheshire, Massachusetts, from which he had delivered to Jefferson a gift of a "mammoth cheese," weighing 1235 pounds

No doubt if there were efforts to allow Christian worship in the U.S. Capitol today, it would be blocked on the basis of "separation of church and state." But clearly if that is what Jefferson meant by his words, he would not have attended this service.

Learn more at the Library of Congress.

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