The First Religious Freedom Law
Posted on January 17, 2019 by Glen Aaron
In 1779, Jefferson proposed a bill that would guarantee complete legal equality for citizens of all religions, and of no religion, in his home state Assembly of Virginia. Jefferson’s was the first plan in any of the 13 states to call for complete separation of civil and religious authority. It was monumental but not an easy plan to get through the Assembly. Different groups had different mindsets that had not reached that level of independence, and after seven years of fierce debate and political bargaining, a law was adopted, just in time for similar consideration and debate in the Constitutional Congress for the greater United States.
Virginia initially stood alone in marshaling a legislative majority that, as Jefferson observed, “meant to comprehend, within the mantle of protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and the infidel of every denomination.”
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