Thomas Jefferson strongly believed that religion was a personal choice that should be free from government interference. So while Virginia was working on reforming its laws to reflect America's newly declared independence, Jefferson introduced the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779) in Virginia. It declared that the government could not tell people what to believe and it made it illegal for the state to tax citizens to support religion. At the this time it was common for states or nations to pay clergy and for the building and upkeep of churches. There were laws that allowed children to be taken from parents if they did not have them baptized. In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII Jefferson writes "But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." Jefferson's bill was ignored by the Virginia General Assembly.

In the 1780's Jefferson served as a diplomat in France. He kept up on American and Virginian politics through letters. Jefferson convinced his friend James Madison to re-introduce the reforms Jefferson had submitted to the General Assembly when he was a member. Madison was able to get the Statute for Religious Freedom enacted into law in 1786.

Jefferson's efforts to promote religious freedom often caused opponents to label him an atheist, a mistake that some still make today. Jefferson was a deist. Jefferson's religious views were unconventional, especially for his time. He believed in one God who set the world in motion, then left it alone. Madison was a more traditional Christian, but he also supported the measure. Both men believed that religion was a personal matter. History had also shown them many examples of the religious majority using the government to oppress. Various religious groups had immigrated to the Americas for that very reason. So Jefferson and Madison thought the government should remain secular. Madison additionally thought that governmental power would corrupt religion. He said if a church needed the government to keep it going, then was it really a true religion?

The states later decided they needed to get rid of the weak Articles of Confederation and adopt a Constitution. At the time, Jefferson was still in France. Jefferson opposed the Constitution for the same reason that some of the states did, there was no Bill of Rights. By the time Jefferson returned from his diplomatic duties Madison had written the Bill of Rights for the Constitution which included freedom of religion in the First Amendment, thus making religious freedom a federal right.

The separation of church and state is still a hotly contested issue today. Some believe that the government should strictly enforce the separation with such measures as taking the phrase "under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. Others go to the opposite extreme and insist that since the Founding Fathers were largely Christian, that this is a Christian nation so we should have prayer in public schools. Many however point to the repressive regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan which was a government based on religion and the things that happened there in the name of religion.

With this and the First Amendment in mind, use a database to find a news article that has to do with the issue of government and religion. The article can be about the United States or a foreign nation who has a state religion. Use the discussion tab at the top of this page. The title of your message should be the title of the article you are using. NO DUPLICATE ARTICLES! Everyone must use a different article. In the response, include a link to the article. Write a short summary of the article and how it relates to freedom of religion. Read two classmates' selected articles and write respectful replies to their summary.