Perfecting Thomas Jefferson?

February 24, 2011

This month has seen important decisions in a couple of religious-political conflicts in Virginia. First, a proposal to amend the state constitution to support public prayer passed the state House of Delegates before being killed in the state Senate. The proposed amendment demonstrated a startling level of ignorance about the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which served as a role model for the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Last month marked the 225th anniversary of that landmark legislation in Virginia that separated church and state and extended religious liberty rights to all. The Act, first drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was so important to him that he had it put on his tombstone as one of his accomplishments, but left off being President of the United States (that is his tombstone in the picture). Although Jefferson wrote it, Madison was the one who worked it through the political system so that it passed. Due to their brilliant work, new amendments to protect religious liberty are not needed. In helping to defeat the amendment, Democratic state Senator Creigh Deeds declared:

I don't think we can perfect Thomas Jefferson.
Amen! The new proposal would have undercut the work of Jefferson and Madison and could have been used to promote acts that run contrary to the First Amendment.

The second controversy involves the back-and-forth case of Ten Commandments memorials in public schools in Giles County, Virginia. After receiving a complaint in December, the superintendent decided to remove them but then the school board voted in January to keep them. But now with the threat of lawsuits, the school board has reversed itself and voted to remove them. A school board member said they could not justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawsuits that could instead be used for education. The Ten Commandments are important religious commands that should be followed and posted in churches. However, posting them in public schools is not only unconstitutional but problematic. We should not ask our government to do the work of our churches. There are some in the community who still want to fight this decision so the issue may not yet be over. Hopefully, however, all that energy and money by Christian groups will instead be spent on ministry efforts.