Saturday, November 29, 2014

Volokh: "Thomas Jefferson on seeking God’s favor"

Check it out here. A taste:
... [T]his passage from Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address:
I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that he will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.
I think Jefferson’s position in making this statement could certainly be reconciled with his position regarding Thanksgiving proclamations. ...

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

The money quote:

There may be justification for a legal rule excluding religious symbolism or text from government speech, whether the addresses of individual officials, albeit on governmental occasions such as inaugurations, or the statements of state legislatures. (Will didn’t advocate such a rule, but of course many people have.) But I don’t think Jefferson’s actual practice does much to support that position.

Jefferson had issued a thanksgiving proclamation as governor of Virginia. His argument would be a very nuanced one, that as president of the federal government, he was not empowered to make such declarations. [A position later shared by the very religious Andrew Jackson.]

Time and time again in these things, people forget that religion was left to the states.

The First Amendment reads that "CONGRESS shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion..." which Jefferson took as applying to the president as well. So as to

But I don’t think Jefferson’s actual practice does much to support that position.

I don't think it's necessarily supported here, since a few benedictory words in an inauguration speech aren't the same as a thanksgiving proclamation with the explicit and sole purpose of religiosity.