THOMAS JEFFERSON LEADERSHIP
It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case, by change if circumstances, become his own. It behooves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith, which the laws have left between God and himself.
Source: To Doctor Benjamin Rush, April 21, 1803
Koch & Peden’s Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson
P. 519 – 522
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
In Part 1, Jefferson explained why he kept his religious views private. Here, he encouraged everyone who valued their right to think for themselves to support that same privacy for others. Why? Because the Constitution prohibited government support of or opposition to an individual’s religious preferences, leaving those choices “between God and himself.”
Since the law protected “the common right of independent opinion,” he urged others not to betray that protection. The erosion of that right for one person could become the starting point for erosion of that right for others. Making private views public by “answering questions of faith” could pry open a door that the Constitution said should remain locked.
This post is part of a series of five, all taken from the same letter:
1. Why I don’t talk about religion publicy
2. You shouldn’t talk about religion publicly
3. Although I don’t talk about religion publicly
4. Jesus did talk about religion publicly
5. What made Jesus different