LTE: A Fanciful Letter

Editor’s Note: Today we kick-off our Letters to the Editor section, which will run on Sundays. Have a comment on a local issue, or want to respond to something you’ve read in our pages? E-mail the editor at [email protected].

We’re honored that our inaugural letter is a tribute to the 247th anniversary of Jefferson’s “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” which was celebrated in Fredericksburg on Sunday January 14, 2024. 

A fanciful letter, based on known history

A Letter To All Houses of Worship in Fredericksburg & Nearby:

I trust this letter finds you well.  I am honored that the kind citizens of Fredericksburg continue their yearly celebration of my Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which I wrote during 1777, after visiting your lovely town in early January of that year.  Please allow me some clarification.  First, many in Fredericksburg appear to think that I drafted the bill during my stay in Fredericksburg.  I admit that memory can be hazy, but I can assure your readers that it would be unlikely that I could compose the bill in the short space of several days.  The five of us charged with revising the laws planned that week simply to settle the plan of operation and to distribute the work.  I don’t remember doing much on the bill before returning home to Charlottesville.  In my 1825 autobiography, I did note that I completed the bill during 1777, most of which time I believe I was at Monticello. It was indeed in Fredericksburg, though, that I took to myself the responsibility of writing the bill.

You are likely aware from my epitaph, which I wrote myself, that I wished to be remembered for three accomplishments, to wit, the Declaration of Independence, the founding of the University of Virginia, and (listed on my headstone between the first two), the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.  Therefore, let me call attention to the thrust of the Statute, which is still in the Code of Virginia:  “…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 opinion or beliefs.  But that all men shall be free to profess, and, by argument, to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same will in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.” 

Finally, let me share with your kind readers my conviction that the General Assembly, by rejecting the insertion of the words “Jesus Christ” in the final law, intended to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Muslim, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination.  Particularly at moments of public strife, which recur from time to time, we do well to remember that the law protects our right to believe, or not believe, as we wish.

Please accept my sincere wishes for the New Year.  I remain,

Your humble servant,

T. Jefferson. 

Submitted by R. Kravetz of Fredericksburg