Jefferson/Madison quotations about Separation of Church and State

Authors Comment: Occasionally I have had need for a quotation about the separation of church and state. Here is a handy list I often draw upon. Please feel welcome to use them. 

On the Separation of Church and State

 Infidel or Christian. Atheist or Deist by Craig Gosling

Can you identify this person by a few of his quotations?

Who was it that wrote that the bible is “… a groundwork of vulgar ignorance of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticisms and fabrications?” It is “…compounded from the heathen mysteries, a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which Jesus, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature.”

Concerning most religious leaders, our mystery man wrote: they use religion…”for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power.”

Who was it that claimed, “…our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics and geometry?”

Who was it that did not believe in Jesus’ divinity, and rejected all the miracles found in the bible, including the Genesis story of the creation, Noah, Moses, the virgin birth, the resurrection, the trinity concept, and the second coming?

Who was it that called Jesus’ biographers and evangelists…”groveling authors…with feeble minds?”

What kind of person would say all this and still claim, “I am a Christian.” in the face of critics who called him infidel and atheist? Was his definition of “Christian” different from that of his enemies, or was he just a shrewd politician?

The man who wrote these things was the third President of The United States, Thomas Jefferson. His views on the separation of church and state are well known, but his personal religious beliefs are not.

Recommended reading: The Jefferson Bible and Jefferson, His Life and Words. These little books will open your eyes about a man universally admired and to whom Americans owe so much.

Historians now generally recognize Jefferson as a multi faceted man of revolutionary, pragmatic, conflicting, and rationalistic beliefs. He was “a man of all seasons”, truly “a renaissance man” and a freethinker. Today we would call him a secular humanist.

Jefferson’s critics claimed he would bring the country to ruin if he became president. They maligned him beyond the imagination of the today’s nasty pundits and their political smearing. They attacked his personal religious beliefs as well as his politics with great vehemence.

We should not forget that, although Jefferson was a politician, he was a sensitive man, tuned into public opinion, and angered by the derogatory comments that jeopardized his political future and complicated his private life. Although he tried to keep his personal beliefs about religion from the general public, he shared them, in confidential letters, with close friends. His letters are readily available on the Internet; they tell us much more about him than do high-school history books.

So, what kind of man was Jefferson and would his religious beliefs disqualify him from becoming president today? Jefferson was an enigma who probably would have alienated the general voting public. Without a traditional belief in God and Christianity, he would have been crucified by the right wing and unable to win much of the religious voting block that elected George Bush. Modern communications would make it possible for Glenn Beck and Fox News to discredit him in every American household. We should all be grateful that he lived when he did and facilitated the birth of our nation. The time was right for him, and us.

Jefferson Quotes

“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.”

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find inducements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.”

Thomas Jefferson’s letter to nephew Peter Carr, written from Paris, Aug 10 1787.

“I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.”

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

“In every country and every age, the priest had been hostile to Liberty.” “

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, including Jefferson, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindu and Infidel of every denomination.

“I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians.”

-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom.

“Would not Society be better without such religions? Is Atheism less pernicious than Demonism?”) Thomas Jefferson replied, “I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever in religion, in philosophy, in politics, or in anything else where I was capable of thinking for myself. Such an addiction is the last degradation of a free and moral agent.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Richard Price, Jan. 8, 1789 (Richard Price had written to TJ on Oct. 26. about the harm done by religion.

“They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Hopkinson, March 13, 1789

“Virginia history, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.”

-Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800

“The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.”

-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813. The Jefferson Bible was the result of his rejection of bible miracles. John Adams concurred and praised the Jefferson bible.

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814

“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.

“Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Francis Adrian Van der Kemp, 30 July, 1816

“My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Mrs. Samuel H. Smith, August, 6, 1816

“You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819

“If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? …Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814

“As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814

“Priests…dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819

“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] 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.”

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Correa de Serra, April 11, 1820

“To talk of immaterial spiritual existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, supernatural is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, (this masked atheism) crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, April 13, 1820

“Man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820

“I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, not a believer in a God which I can believe in; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.”

-Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822.

“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 Minerve 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.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

“It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherencies of our own nightly dreams.”

-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”

-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826 (in

the last letter he penned) Adams, January 24, 1814

“False religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time have been maintained through the church-state. To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propaganda of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” No citizen “shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever”

-Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Statue

“Millions of innocent men, women, and children since the introduction of Christianity have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned. Yet have we advanced one inch towards uniformity? What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

-Thomas Jefferson in his notes on Virginia (1781)

James Madison Quotes

Madison objected to state-supported chaplains in Congress and to the

exemption of churches from taxation. He wrote “Religion and government will

both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

“What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on

civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of

political tyrrany. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of

the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty

have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government,

instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy.”

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.

“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects? Memorial and Remonstrance”

“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect”

“Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Government”

“The number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the state”

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together”

“In no instance have . . . the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.”

“Strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history”

“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”


About cgosling

I am a retired medical/scientific illustrator and creator of patient teaching simulators, who has given up illustration to write about science, superstition, and secular humanism. I consider myself all of the following: atheist, agnostic, secular humanist, freethinker, skeptic, and nature lover. I have several published books but the mass of my writing is unpublished. I write children's fiction, poetry, essays, and several plays and radio theater shows, that are available as free downloads to be used on secular podcasts and meetings. They can be heard on Indy Freethought Radio or on YouTube “secularradiotheater”. I hope some of my writings will be of interest to like minded freethinkers who I cordially invite to respond. I am also a Darwin impersonator. I invite readers to listen to and use the Darwin script for secular purposes.
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