234 Years Later, No One’s Doubting Thomas

234 Years Later, No One’s Doubting Thomas

January 16, 2020 By Tony Perkins
“…By these, as testimonials that I have lived, I wish most to be remembered.” –Thomas Jefferson

He was a president — a man who doubled the size of our country, abolished the international slave trade, even developed the plans for West Point. When the Library of Congress was demolished in the War of 1812, he single-handedly restocked it. He invented the polygraph, swivel chairs, the dumbwaiter, message encoders, a form of the pedometer, even the macaroni noodle. He was America’s first secretary of state, its father of intellectual property rights. But as impressive as those accomplishments are, they weren’t what mattered to him. When Thomas Jefferson died, not one of these things appeared on his tombstone.

“On the faces of the Obelisk the following inscription, and not a word more,” Jefferson instructed. His legacy, he decided, would be three things: the Declaration of Independence, his founding the University of Virginia, and a local law that would become the foundation for our First Amendment — the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. When visitors walk the garden path to his gravesite at Monticello, they realize that Jefferson — whose face is on Mount Rushmore, the two-dollar bill, and carved into a giant marble likeness under the Tidal Pool dome — was most proud, not of leading his infant country, but of his contributions to liberty.

When the memorial was made, Jefferson wanted it to be of “course stone… that no one might be tempted to destroy it…” To be fair, no one wanted to harm it, but shortly after it was put in place, people couldn’t help themselves. Little by little, the granite was chipped away. Grateful Americans were breaking off tiny pieces of the stone — not because it was worth anything, but because they wanted something to remember the president by.

Jefferson’s legacy, it turns out, was not so easy to whittle away. A full 234 years after the 43-year-old Thomas dipped his pen in ink and wrote the words that separate America from the world, we still live by them. “Almighty God,” the eventual president wrote, “hath created the mind free… [A]ll attempts to influence it by temporal punishment 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 his Almighty power to do.”

The statute wasn’t taken seriously at first. It took a whole 10 years for Jefferson’s revolutionary idea to even pass the general assembly. By then, he wasn’t even there — he was in Paris, serving as a U.S. minister. But, as historians point out, he “watched anxiously” from afar, as James Madison championed the bill through its decade-long journey. When it finally passed, Jefferson was so convinced of its significance that he had it translated into French and Italian and “distributed as widely as possible.”

Asked later why he was so passionate about it, Jefferson said his Virginia statute “is a true standard of Religious liberty: its principle the great barrier against usurpations on the rights of conscience. As long as it is respected & no longer, these will be safe.” While the story of America was still being written, he was determined to give his new country the freedom England would not. And that determination led to one of his greatest inventions: a way for every American — believing and unbelieving — to live an authentic life.

He understood then that without religious liberty, there is no freedom. Maybe that’s why, despite all of his other accomplishments, the words that inspired the First Amendment are what he’s most proud of. More than two centuries later, they’re still stirring countries to fight for the liberties that set America apart. And while he didn’t live to see how the Founders’ experiment turned out, Jefferson would be gratified to know that in a world where three out of every four people live in places hostile to faith, America is still one of the brightest lights on freedom’s shore.

Today, on the anniversary of the signing that made that possible, we celebrate that — and the men and women of courage who keep the torch burning.

For more on Religious Freedom Day, check out David Closson’s new piece in Townhall, “Religious Freedom Still Deserves Our Respect.”

Published by directorfsm

I retired from the Army in 1994 and lost my way in the world. I ended up in prison and it was truly the best thing that could have happened. There Christ rescued me from my depravity (John 3:19) and made me whole again. Since my release in 2006 I have worked in some form of ministry, either prison or construction/disaster relief and sometimes both. My lovely wife Naida and I serve as Missionaries from Pioneer Valley Baptist Church, Chicopee, MA. We are currently headquartered in Jackson, MS. We were sent to the mission field in 2012 to help Rebuild Lakeshore, a ministry of Lakeshore Baptist Church in Lakeshore, MS complete its post Katrina building projects. We had been serving there part time for many years before being called into full time service. While there my wife worked the Mercy House distribution center and I worked as project manager/volunteer coordinator also serving as Sr. Volunteer Chaplain at the local Hancock county jail. Since completing that project in late 2015 we relocated to Jackson MS to assist a church there that had come to help in Lakeshore many times. But due to many circumstances the focus for the ministry has changed some and expanded over the past 24 months. We still help churches in their building projects and do a lot of disaster relief work. For a full list of what we offer please see the SERVICES OFFERED page on our Faith Builders site. Back in 2006 I started Faithful Steward Ministries and FSM Women’s Outreach a Christian outreach ministry; to those with addictions, incarcerated and our veterans we continue to write and mentor these folks. Additionally I am a Chaplain for Mission M25 Network on Run For the Wall and for two military organizations. Between us my wife and I have two beautiful daughters 3 sons and 11 grandchildren and 1 great grandchild.

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