Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom



        _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

extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious

presumption of legislators and rulers, 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 labours for the

instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependance on

our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or

geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the

public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to

offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or

that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously 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 honours and emoluments, those who

will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these

are criminal 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 falacy, 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, nor 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

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 operation, such act will be an

infringement of natural right.