David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – In the Year of Our Lord Christ

Yesterday, I addressed David Barton’s claim that Thomas Jefferson authorized funds to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indian tribe. What he actually did was sign a treaty which provided funds to the tribe to help build a church and help fund the services of a Catholic priest for a brief period. The 200 or so Kaskaskia Indians were already predominantly Catholic and the funds amounted to part of a transaction in exchange for their land.
Today, I want to examine the claim by David Barton that Thomas Jefferson was so religious that he included mention of Jesus as Christ in government documents. Specifically, Barton points to the document to the left and says there is significance in the phrase, “In the Year of Our Lord Christ.” (click the image to enlarge it)
On his Wallbuilders site, Barton explains what he sees as the significance of the appellation:

Following is an original document in our possession, signed by Thomas Jefferson on September 24, 1807. This document is permission for a ship called the Herschel to proceed on its journey to the port of London. The interesting characteristic of this document is the use of the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ.” Many official documents say “in the year of our Lord,” but we have found very few that include the word “Christ.” However, this is the explicitly Christian language that President Thomas Jefferson chose to use in official public presidential documents.

You can click the document to see the portion Barton has placed on his website. The English part is not completely visible, while the Dutch component is. I have enlarged the section which contains the phrase in question.

Jefferson did indeed sign this sea letter allowing safe passage for the Herschel to travel to London. However, Jefferson did not choose the “explicitly Christian language” in this document.
As is obvious from the document, this is a form which was preprinted with writing added based on the specific situation. This particular form was required by the Treaty with Holland of 1782 to be used as a kind of passport – called a sea letter – to allow safe passage of ships from an American port to the port of an enemy; more about that to come.  See the image below which describes the form as the “form of the Passport which shall be given to ships and vessels in consequence of the 25th article of this treaty:”
This particular image comes from a book titled Reports of Cases Argued and Decided by the United States Supreme Court, compiled by a New York lawyers group in 1882.  The treaty referred to here was signed with Holland in 1782, the same year Holland became the second nation, after the French, to recognize the independence of the fledgling United States. England had declared war with Holland in 1780. 
By 1807, Holland was essentially controlled by the French who were at war with England. For an American ship to sail to London, the sea letter displayed by Barton was necessary for safe passage. The treaty specified that

Art. 10. The merchant ships of either of the parties, coming from the port of an enemy, or from their own, or a neutral port, may navigate freely towards any port of an enemy of the other ally; thev shall be, nevertheless, held, whenever” it shall be required, to exhibit, as well upon the high seas as in the ports, their sea-letters and other documents, described in the twenty-fifth article, stating expressly, that their effects are not of the number of those which are prohibited, as contraband: and not 35*] *having any contraband goods for an enemy’s port, they may freely, and without hindrance, pursue their voyage toward the port of an enemy. Nevertheless, it shall not be required to examine the papers of vessels convoyed by vessels of war, but credence shall be given to the word of the officer who shall conduct the convoy.
Art. 11. If, by exhibiting the sea-letters, and other documents, described more particularly in the twenty-fifth article of this treaty… (my emphasis)

Note the phrases in bold print. When moving toward the port of an enemy, the ship was to have a sea letter. The form of the sea letter was prescribed by treaty to contain the language it did. Now compare the Herschel sea letter with the form prescribed by treaty in the image below:

The language is the same. Jefferson was bound by treaty to use this form and did not choose to use this “explicitly Christian language.” John Adams is credited with negotiating the treaty but given the frequency of the phrase in other French treaties and documents of the era, my assumption is that the language was considered standard. Many early Canadian documents also used the phrase, but I doubt Mr. Barton would make the same religious attributions to the signers of those documents that he does in the case of Jefferson.
Next: Did Jefferson approve church services in the Capitol and order the Marine Band to play for them?
Related:
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – Gnadenhutten and the Christian Indians
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – United Brethren and the Christian Indians
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson – In the Year of Our Lord Christ
David Barton on Thomas Jefferson: The Kaskaskia Indians
Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?
More on Thomas Jefferson and Christianity
David Barton: Pluralism not the goal of the First Amendment
Did the First Amendment Create a Christian Nation?

David Barton on Thomas Jefferson: The Kaskaskia Indians

 
UPDATE: For more information about Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, go to GettingJeffersonRight.com.
Recently, I have been writing about the First Amendment. In the process, I have been reading much about the religious views of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison, all firm defenders of freedom of conscience.  Jefferson is particularly interesting given claims made about him by historical document collector David Barton. Barton runs an organization called Wallbuilders, dedicated to finding God’s hand in American history.
Over the next several days, I plan to examine some of these claims. Given the blog format the examination will be brief but I hope sufficient to demonstrate that what is being claimed by Mr. Barton about Jefferson is often misleading.  Barton has made several claims about Jefferson in a variety of places but I will use a recent audio file from his WallbuildersLive site as a springboard. On his April 11 podcast, Barton said:

And then there’s Thomas Jefferson. Not only did Jefferson recommend that the great seal of the US depict a Bible story and include the word God in the national motto, but as President, Jefferson negotiated treaties with the Indians in which he included direct federal funding to pay for Christian missionaries to evangelize the Indians. And these treaties were ratified by the US Senate. Furthermore, Jefferson closed Presidential documents with the appellation, “In the Year of Our Lord Christ,” thus invoking Jesus Christ into official government documents.
You know I have a lot of fun with Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, because people think they know those two, but you take those two, and they are clearly the least religious of the signers of the Declaration. And by using their original documents, they look like a couple of radical right, Bible thumping evangelicals. And they’re the least religious, And I’ll give you a great example. We moved into the US Capitol in 1800, November of 1800. And when we moved in, one of the first acts of Congress was to approve the use of the Capitol as a church building. You can find that in the records of Congress, Dec 4 1800. Now, who did that? You had the head of the Senate and the head of the House, the speaker of the House was John Trumpbell, the president of the Senate who approved that was Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson approves church in the Capitol? Yep, he went there as Vice President, he went to the church at the Capitol for 8 years as President, and as President of the US, he’s going to church, and this is recorded in all sorts of members of Congress, their records, their diaries, because they went to church at the Capitol too. And so, Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, thinks, you know I think I can help the worship services at this new church at the Capitol, they met in the Hall of the House of Representatives, so Jefferson ordered the Marine Corp band to come play for the worship services, in the church services at the US Capitol. The worship band is the Marine Corp Band? Pretty good worship band. Thomas Jefferson did that. I thought he wanted separation of church and state. If you read his letter on separation of church and state, he said separation of church and state, he makes it very clear, separation of church and state will keep the government from stopping a public religious activity.
We’re not going to learn about what Jefferson actually did cause we’ve got a couple of his phrases where we can say he didn’t like religion. So we’re not going to look at the fact that in 1803, Thomas Jefferson, President of the US, signer of the Declaration, did a treaty with Kaskaskia Indians, where that he gave federal funds to send missionaries to the Indians, ratified by the US Senate. Now, I don’t know anybody on the radical religious right that would be comfortable with doing that today but Thomas Jefferson did. It was not a problem for him. So we look at the guys today and we look only what appears to be their non-religious or anti-religious side, and we think that is who they are…And You look at the rest of Jefferson and he would make most Christians today look embarrassingly shallow and yet Jefferson still had questions about the divinity of Christ and still so much further in promoting Christian principles.

The principle claims I plan to examine are that Jefferson:

  • signed a treaty which provided federal funds to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians
  • closed Presidential documents with the statement: “In the Year of Our Lord Christ,” thus setting out Jefferson’s belief in Jesus as Christ.
  • approved holding church in the US Capitol and ordered the Marine Band to play for the worship service.
  • merely had questions about the divinity of Christ. In fact, he looks like a “radical right, Bible thumping” evangelical when one examines the original documents.

First, did Jefferson enter into “a treaty with Kaskaskia Indians, where that he gave federal funds to send missionaries to the Indians?”
When I first heard that claim, I thought I would find evidence that Jefferson authorized funds to give to a church organization or denomination for the purpose of sending missionaries to an unchurched tribe. The phrasing of Mr. Barton makes it sound like the government paid missionaries to spread Christianity and make converts.
I did not find that.
In 1803, a treaty was signed with the Kaskaskia tribe which contained the following reference to religion. This is the only treaty I can find in 1803 with the Kaskaskia tribe.

ARTICLE 3.
The annuity heretofore given by the United States to the said tribe shall be increased to one thousand dollars, which is to be paid to them either in money, merchandise, provisions or domestic animals, at the option of the said tribe: and when the said annuity or any part thereof is paid in merchandise, it is to be delivered to them either at Vincennes, Fort Massac or Kaskaskia, and the first cost of the goods in the sea-port where they may be procured is alone to be charged to the said tribe free from the cost of transportation, or any other contingent expense. Whenever the said tribe may choose to receive money, provisions or domestic animals for the whole or in part of the said annuity, the same shall be delivered at the town of Kaskaskia. The United States will also cause to be built a house suitable for the accommodation of the chief of the said tribe, and will enclose for their use a field not exceeding one hundred acres with a good and sufficient fence. And whereas, The greater part of the said tribe have been baptised and received into the Catholic church to which they are much attached, the United States will give annually for seven years one hundred dollars towards the support of a priest of that religion, who will engage to perform for the said tribe the duties of his office and also to instruct as many of their children as possible in the rudiments of literature. And the United States will further give the sum of three hundred dollars to assist the said tribe in the erection of a church. The stipulations made in this and the preceding article, together with the sum of five hundred and eighty dollars, which is now paid or assured to be paid for the said tribe for the purpose of procuring some necessary articles, and to relieve them from debts which they have heretofore contracted, is considered as a full and ample compensation for the relinquishment made to the United States in the first article.

The United States gave money toward a church building and provided a stipend for a priest to continue work already begun, which included both religious and non-religious duties.
The Kaskaskia were already Catholic converts. Nothing is said directly about evangelizing, and is an inference. Nothing in the treaty required the priest to attempt to make converts. He certainly could have involved himself in numerous other pastoral duties to the already converted, in addition to his duties teaching literature. Apparently the funds were paid to the tribe for the listed purposes.
One reason why this treaty is important to those who want the government to establish Christianity as the nation’s religion is because funds were paid for religious purposes. However, it is very important to remember that the Indian tribes were considered sovereign nations. This treaty provides money for another, albeit very small nation of people, to pursue religious ends of their choosing. This is not the same as awarding money to a state government for the purpose of paying ministers. Some state governments debated those kind of proposals but eventually all of those initiatives were defeated.
In addition, it appears that Barton wants to make Jefferson look more evangelical than he was. He attempts to compare Jefferson’s action in signing the treaty to today’s evangelicals who would not be comfortable with such an arrangement, thus casting Jefferson as one who was willing to mesh political policy with religious practice.
In fact, the Kaskaskia tribe turned to Catholicism via the ministry of Father Marquette in the mid-1600s. By the time they signed the treaty with the United States, there were only about 200 members of the tribe.  The United States government recognized their allegiances and responded accordingly. What Jefferson allowed was an acknowledgement of the practices of Kaskaskia tribe rather than an effort to convert them with government money.
Next: Did Jefferson sign official documents with the appellation, “In the Year of Our Lord Christ?”
Previously: Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

 

 

More on Thomas Jefferson and Christianity

Monday, I disputed the notion that Thomas Jefferson was an evangelical Christian who hoped to evangelize Native Americans with his edited version of the New Testament. There I provided evidence that Jefferson was not a Christian in the evangelical sense. Here is additional evidence that Jefferson was not the Christian portrayed by David Barton and other revisionists of Jefferson’s beliefs.
First in a April 11, 1823 letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote:

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknolege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin. Indeed I think that every Christian sect gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god. Now one sixth of mankind only are supposed to be Christians: the other five sixths then, who do not believe in the Jewish and Christian revelation, are without a knolege of the existence of a god!

No love for Calvinists there. Then, in the same letter, he wrote regarding the virgin birth:

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

The virgin birth a fable?
In an April 13, 1820 letter to William Short, Jefferson left no doubt what he thought of the Apostle Paul:

But while this Syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in it’s true and high light, as no imposter himself but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with him in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist, he takes the side of spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin. I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it &c. &c. It is the innocence of his character, the purity & sublimity of his moral precepts, the eloquence of his inculcations, the beauty of the apologias in which he conveys them, that I so much admire; sometimes indeed needing indulgence to Eastern hyperbolism. My eulogies too may be founded on a postulate which all may not be ready to grant. Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I seperate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that his part composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man. The Syllabus is therefore of his doctrines, not all of mine. I read them as I do those of other antient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and disent.

To Jefferson, then, much of the New Testament is falsehoods, made up about Jesus, rendering Him unrecognizable.
Then in another letter to Short, dated October 31, 1819, Jefferson wrote:

But the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man; outlines which it is lamentable he did not live to fill up. Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems,* invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning. It would in time, it is to be hoped, effect a quiet euthanasia of the heresies of bigotry and fanaticism which have so long triumphed over human reason, and so generally and deeply afflicted mankind; but this work is to be begun by winnowing the grain from the chaff of the historians of his life.
* e. g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy.

Note what Jefferson considered to be “artificial systems.” There is not much left for what evangelicals would consider a Christian. Imagine now if a social conservative GOP candidate called the miraculous aspects of Christianity, “rubbish.” And yet, David Barton and by extension Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich promote this revisionism regarding Jefferson.
There are other quotes I have seen, now having reviewed most of the letters between Jefferson and John Adams. Both men seem to believe there was a creator god which via some intelligence plays a role in the affairs of men, but they, most clearly Jefferson, would not be comfortable religiously at evangelical churches today.
Postscript: Thomas Jefferson was born on today’s date, April 13, 1743.

Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

David Barton says it was. Barton is a collector of historical documents who is a favorite of Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. On his website, Wallbuilders, Barton says:

The reader, as do many others, claimed that Jefferson omitted all miraculous events of Jesus from his “Bible.” Rarely do those who make this claim let Jefferson speak for himself. Jefferson’s own words explain that his intent for that book was not for it to be a “Bible,” but rather for it to be a primer for the Indians on the teachings of Christ (which is why Jefferson titled that work, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”). What Jefferson did was to take the “red letter” portions of the New Testament and publish these teachings in order to introduce the Indians to Christian morality. And as President of the United States, Jefferson signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia tribe wherein he provided—at the government’s expense—Christian missionaries to the Indians. In fact, Jefferson himself declared, “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” While many might question this claim, the fact remains that Jefferson called himself a Christian, not a deist.

This section is taken from a prototype of a letter which could be sent to a local newspaper if articles appear which discount the Christianity of the Founders. Barton seeks to portray Jefferson as a Christian, in the evangelical sense. This video clip provides more detail.

As I understand it, Jefferson did indeed favor Christian teaching for Native Americans. However, there is abundant reason to doubt that he wanted them to become Christians in the evangelical sense. If so, his little Reader’s Digest version of the Gospels would have been a poor way to do it. Here is how the Jefferson Bible ends:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
49 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
50 And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
51 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
52 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
53 And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
54 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.
55 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
56 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
57 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
58 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
59 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
60 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
61 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
62 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
63 There laid they Jesus,
64 And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

No Easter morning?! How can you evangelize without the victory dance of the resurrection? Can you imagine how the evangelical world would react if one of today’s GOP candidates produced an edited New Testament missing Easter? I doubt we would have tributes to his Christianity, such as Barton gave in the video above.
The Jefferson Bible is intriguing and can be freely read at Google Books. To explore the claims of Jefferson’s Christianity, please read the introduction which includes letters about the project to Benjamin Rush and Charles Thompson. This snippet makes Jefferson sound very un-evangelical:

3. According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he [Jesus] fell an early victim to the jealousy and combination of the altar and the throne, at about 33 years of age, his reason having not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of three years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals.
4. Hence the doctrines which he really delivered were defective, as a whole, and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, and often uninintelligible.
5. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian Sophist (Plato), frittering them into subtilties and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man. The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.

Note in point 3, there is no reference to the resurrection of Christ. In point 4, there is contempt by Jefferson for the New Testament record, calling it “mutilated, misstated, and often uninintelligible.” Then in point 5, the sentence in bold above makes it clear that Jefferson did not see Jesus as divine. From his writings and his reduction of the New Testament, it appears that he thought Jesus was an overachiever in the moral sense, an enlightened teacher who provided his students with enduring guidance. In that sense, Jefferson was a Christian, but in today’s political scene, he doubt he would get a warm reception in Iowa.
……..
Jefferson wrote John Adams about his desire to create a compilation of Jesus’ teaching. In it, it seems clear that he was not simply creating a simplified version of the New Testament for Native Americans. Rather, he was teasing out “diamonds in a dunghill.” In the Oct. 12, 1813 letter, Jefferson wrote to Adams:

In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurgos, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as were professed and acted on by the unlettered Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Christians of the first century. Their Platonizing successors, indeed, in after times, in order to legitimate the corruptions which they had incorporated into the doctrines of Jesus, found it necessary to disavow the primitive Christians, who had taken their principles from the mouth of Jesus himself, of his Apostles, and the Fathers contemporary with them. They excommunicated their followers as heretics, branding them with the opprobrious name of Ebionites or Beggars.

At the least, Jefferson shows no interest in the canon of the Gospels. Even if he later hoped his efforts would help in making native people more European, his intent as expressed to Adams was to craft a document “for his own use.” Note his belief that the church perverted the teachings of Jesus. He closes his description of his editing work by noting that the Ebionites were excommunicated because they held to the primitive teachings. Not much is known about the Ebionites but apparently they did not hold to the divinity of Jesus and discounted his virgin birth.

Today in history: George Washington on religious freedom

To Bigotry No Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance…

-George Washington

On August 17, 1790, President George Washington wrote a letter to Moses Seixas and the Jewish congregation of Newport, RI. Washington did so in response to a letter sent by the group when Washington visited their city. The account is on the Library of Congress website and provides important historical context for debates over freedom of religion for Muslims.

On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, presented a congratulatory address to President George Washington on the occasion of his visit to their city. Both the address, written by Moses Seixas, and Washington’s response appeared together in several newspapers. They encapsulate Washington’s clearest articulation of his belief in religious freedom and the first presidential affirmation of the free and equal status of Jewish-American citizens.

And here is part of what he told the congregation:

All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

I suppose those opposed to Muslim houses of worship would appeal to Washington’s condition at the end – that they conduct themselves as good citizens by providing “effectual support.” I don’t believe religious freedom can be used as a means to protect subversive activities. Thus, one would need to demonstrate that individual projects or religious groups have treasonous plans in order to make a case that religious freedoms should be set aside.

Washington’s words also are in sharp contrast to the spin on religious freedom offered by some on the Christian right (e.g., Bryan Fischer), namely that the founders only intended to stop the government from taking sides in Christian denominational disputes, and knew nothing of tolerance for other faiths. Moses Seixas congregation was not a denomination of Christianity.

Not all founders considered themselves Christian. Thomas Jefferson edited the New Testament producing his own gospel by omitting the supernatural aspects of the life of Jesus. His references to religion were not directed at Christian denominations exclusively but religion in general. So on this day in history, let’s reflect on the common grace of God and the First Amendment.

To Bigotry No Sanction, to Persecution No Assistance…