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The Jeffersonian cyclopedia;

a comprehensive collection of the views of Thomas Jefferson classified and arranged in alphabetical order under nine thousand titles relating to government, politics, law, education, political economy, finance, science, art, literature, religious freedom, morals, etc.;

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2901. FAST-DAYS, Federal Government and.—
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2901. FAST-DAYS, Federal Government and.—

I consider the government of the
United States as interdicted by the Constitution
from intermeddling in religious institutions,
their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.
This results not only from the provision that
no law shall be made respecting the establishment
or free exercise of religion, but from
that also which reserves to the States the
powers not delegated to the United States.
Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious
exercise, or to assume authority in religious
discipline, has been delegated to the General
Government. It must, then, rest with the
States, so far as it can be in any human authority.
But it is only proposed that I should
recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting
and prayer. That is, that I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over
religious exercises, which the Constitution
has directly precluded them from. It must
be meant, too, that this recommendation is to
carry some authority, and to be sanctioned
by some penalty on those who disregard it;
not indeed of fine and imprisonment, but of
some degree of proscription perhaps in public
opinion. And does the change in the nature
of the penalty make the recommendation less
a law of conduct for those to whom it is directed?
I do not believe it is for the interest
of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct
its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines;
nor of the religious societies, that the
General Government should be invested with
the power of effecting any uniformity of time
or matter among them. Fasting and prayer
are religious exercises; the enjoining them an
act of discipline. Every religious society has
a right to determine for itself the times for
these exercises, and the objects proper for
them, according to their own particular tenets;
and this right can never be safer than in their
own hands, where the Constitution has deposited
it. I am aware that the practice of
my predecessors may be quoted. But I have
ever believed that the example of State executives
led to the assumption of that authority
by the General Government, without due
examination, which would have discovered
that what might be a right in a State government,
was a violation of that right when assumed
by another. Be this as it may, every
one must act according to the dictates of his
own reason, and mine tells me that civil
powers alone have been given to the President
of the United States, and no authority to direct
the religious exercises of his constituents.—
To Rev. Samuel Miller. Washington ed. v, 236. Ford ed., ix, 174.
(W. 1808)