Friday, March 27, 2009

Jefferson on Balancing Rights and Inconvenience

President Thomas Jefferson is so often quoted in a misleading context today by the mis-use of his metaphor "separation of church and state" as some kind of guide to the First Amendment. There is even an organization, using that phrase as part of its name, that seems determined to limit religious expression in any public ceremony, in public schools, and in many other areas.

Would Jefferson have wanted a court to prohibit a school choir singing much of Bach's music because it was written with a religious context? Would Jefferson have wanted the courts to force the Ten Commandments out of the public square in many towns? Do those and many other actions fit the following quote from Jefferson?

"I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it."

Thomas Jefferson to Archibald Stuart, 1791. ME 8:276, as found at the University of Virginia's Jefferson collection

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