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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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976

Page 976

A BILL FOR ESTABLISHING RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

Section I.

Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will,
but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created
the mind free, and manifested His supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether
insusceptible of restraint: that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens,
or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a
departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and
mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to
do, but to exalt it by its influence on reason alone: that the impious presumption of legislature
and ruler, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men,
have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of
thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others,
hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through
all time: That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions
which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to
support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable
liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make
his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness; and is withdrawing
from the ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their
personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction
of mankind, that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any
more than our opinions in physics or geometry; and therefore the proscribing any citizen as
unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to office of
trust or emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving
him injudiciously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens,
he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion
it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those
who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminals who do
not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;
that the opinions of men are not the object of civil government nor under its jurisdiction;
that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain
the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous
fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty, because, he being of course judge of that
tendency, will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments
of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough
for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break
out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will
prevail if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has
nothing to fear from the conflict unless, by human interposition, disarmed of her natural
weapons, free argument and debate; errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely
to contradict them:

Sect. II.

We, the General Assembly of Virginia, do enact that no man shall be compelled
to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced,
restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, or shall otherwise suffer on account
of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to
maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish,
enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Sect. III.

And though we well know that this Assembly, elected by the people for the
ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies,
constituted with powers equal to our own, and that, therefore, to declare this act to be
irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the
rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter
passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operations, such act will be an infringement
of natural right.—
viii, 454. Ford ed., ii, 237. 1786.