Kingman Letter: Jefferson and religion

The belief that Thomas Jefferson was a deist who founded the University of Virginia as a secular institution devoid of Christianity, clergy and Christian professors is patently false. The first error is repeating today's academic writers who, rather than using original source material, quote each other's false statements. Jefferson's own words alone dispel this academic malpractice.

America's universities contained three similarities, all founded on one particular denomination, president and clergymen the same. Illustrative is Harvard, 1636, Congregationalist; William and Mary, 1692, Yale, 1791, Anglican; Princeton, 1773, Presbyterian; and College of Rhode Island (Brown), 1764, Baptist.

Jefferson and his board founded the University of Virginia as a trans-denominational school, causing modern critics to wrongly believe it was secular. Thirty years prior, the Anglican Church alone was legally acknowledged in Virginia, so Jefferson penned the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, putting all churches on equal footing. It was on this he founded the U of VA, saying, "In conformity with the principles of our Constitution which places all sects on equal footing...we have proposed no Professor of Divinity."

Presbyterian Clergyman Samuel Knox, who penned similar beliefs, was selected as first faculty member - all others being of various denominations with none deists or Unitarians. Fees were waived for students studying for Gospel ministry - a preferential treatment.

Jefferson personally directed "teaching the proofs of the being of God, Creator, Preserver and Supreme Ruler of the Universe ... author of all morality ... and the laws and obligations these infer," also directing teaching of Biblical Hebrew, Greek and Latin so students could study the "earliest and most respected authorities on the Christian Faith." The library was stocked with Christianity's greatest writings and the Rotunda was designated for religious services students were expected to attend.

Jefferson's words: "provision is made for giving instruction in ... the earliest and most respected authorities of the faith of every denomination ... developing those moral obligations in which all sects agree."

So common became the trans-denominational approach, de Tocqueville wrote, "The sects existing in the U.S. are innumerable ... within the great unity of Christianity."

Linda Athens

Kingman