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Thomas Jefferson requested that just three accomplishments be listed on his tombstone: the Declaration of Independence, the University of Virginia, and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. He noted that “by these, as testimonials that I haved lived, I wish most to be remembered.”
The Supreme Court’s ruling last week in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission showed the continued impact of Jefferson’s writings in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and many of his sentiments were echoed in Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurrence. Jefferson was writing at a time when the state’s official connection to the church had not yet been clearly defined and the Virginia House of Delegates was poised to be an example for other states to follow at the upcoming Constitutional Convention.
Bill - Jefferson - Support - James - Madison
In a brief but powerful bill, Jefferson, with the support of James Madison, championed freedom of religion, arguing that any limitation on the mind by government is “a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion.” The law dictated 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.”
These sentiments went on to influence the First Amendment three years later, and their impact can be felt in the jurisprudence of the Masterpiece Cakeshop decision. The details of the case center around Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who declined to make a custom-designed cake for a same-sex wedding because it went against his Christian beliefs. In an op-ed Phillips wrote he stated “My religious convictions on this are grounded in the biblical teaching that God designed marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” As a result, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission cracked down on him accusing...
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