It was not to diminish it.
Jefferson separated Church and State to ensure that all people could enjoy religious worship of their choice. Two key 1801 letters show Jefferson’s purpose was religious freedom — one by the Danbury Baptist Association asking for religions freedom, and the second letter by Jefferson responding affirmatively. Let’s scrutinize the letters closely.
….”Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature would “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and Creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect and esteem. Th Jefferson Jan. 1. 1802″
It is important for us to understand that the motive behind the separation of church and state by Jefferson was religious freedom and not the opposite. Interestingly, “Separation of Church and State” is not in our national Constitution — not in word or indirectly implied. Yet, in many of the political arguments and campaigns used by the opposition, it is treated as if it is law, and suggested that the original intention of Jefferson was to minimize religion. Their misrepresentations have been used and continue to be used to justify the below:
Their archived documents state emphatically that Jefferson’s letter was intended to assure the Danbury Baptists that he would support their rights to religious freedom — and that the American people would not pass legislation that promoted one religion over others or prevented the exercise of religion. It also offers good reasons to dispel all doubts:
In 1803, one year after the Danbury letter, Jefferson made a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, wherein he pledged money to build them a Roman Catholic Church and to support their priests — all from federal funds. (We accidentally hit on another issue here — how did the IRS get the right to prohibit churches from supporting candidates under penalty of withholding federal funds? It’s joyful to read history and get the truth!) Jefferson apparently saw no conflict between asking Congress to implement the treaty’s provisions by appropriating funds, and the prohibition that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion . . .”
In addition, Jefferson signed three extensions of “An act regulating the grants of land appropriated for Military Services, and for the Society of the United Brethren for propagating the Gospel among the Heathen.” This act granted free of charge titles to sections of land to the United Brethren. In addition to holding the land in trust for Indians who were already Christians, the United Brethren used resources derived from cultivating and leasing the land to send out missionaries to proselyte among the non-Christian Indians. Once again, had Jefferson been an absolutist, as the Everson Court suggests, he would have vetoed not one, but all three extensions of this act.
Other support given by Jefferson gave to the Roman Catholic Church.
Some reporters of that time said Jefferson was an atheist. Perhaps. Yet, he shows here a respect for religions and human religious rights. For further reading, see The Danbury Baptist Association Correspondence. And, just to be sure we realize that Jefferson supported religious freedom — including in classrooms — read several paragraphs from “answerinsingenesis.org.:
When the use of the Bible was threatened to be diminished by an abundance of new textbooks available around 1800, prominent American educators spoke up to ensure the Bible’s place as America’s premier textbook. Fisher Ames, an educator and prominent statesman, said, “[I]f these [new] books … must be retained, as they will be, should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?” In a widely distributed pamphlet, Benjamin Rush (the “father of public schools under the Constitution” as well as a signer of America’s Declaration of Independence) argued from reason and revelation for the continued use of the Bible as a schoolbook.
Even Thomas Jefferson was involved in religious aspects of education, for while US president, he made the Bible a primary reading text for Washington, D.C., schools.
Noah Webster, one of the greatest of American educators, wrote an appendix to his 1832 school history text reminding students of the importance of the Scriptures, and warned that “miseries and evils” result from a lack of following the Bible. In 1844 the US Supreme Court ruled that a college could not be built that excluded teachings from the Bible.
In fact, it was the lawyer and senator, Daniel Webster, the famous “defender of the Constitution,” who argued before the Supreme Court that Christianity is inseparable from education.
What has happened. How did we stray so far?