Jefferson: Conscience Protected Against The Enterprises Of Civil Authority

No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority. It has not left the religion of its citizens under the power of its public functionaries, were it possible that any of these should consider a conquest over the consciences of men either attainable or applicable to any desirable purpose…. I trust that the whole course of my life has proved me a sincere friend to religious as well as civil liberty.

—Thomas Jefferson, “Reply to Address to the Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church at New London, Connecticut,” February 4, 1809, in The Complete Jefferson (S.K. Padover, ed. Duell, Sloan & Pearce, Inc. 1943). (HT: Jay Sekulow).

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  1. So what should we say about those who practiced and supported slavery and Jim Crow because of the dictates of their religiously led consciences? It seems to me that whether conscience trumps civil authority should be judged on a case by case basis.

    • Curt,

      Homosexual marriage and the natural rights of Africans, who were stolen and sold into perpetual chattel slavery, are hardly comparable. The peculiar institution of American slavery was justified by denying the humanity of those enslaved. Yes, appeal was made to Scripture but it was also disputed.Christians were among those who led the opposition to the American and British practice of slavery.

      Enslaved Africans had a natural and constitutional right to be free. The same is not true of homosexuals who wish to re-define marriage as affection + consent. Homosexual marriage is contrary to nature. “If the hearts fit, the parts fit” is patently false. Please consult Gray’s Anatomy or your nearest physiology textbook.

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