Every Tuesday on our sister station, we are joined live in-studio by our friend Mike Allen for a segment called "The Place You Live."
Mike acts as our tour guide through through a chapter of CT history. He does extensive research and presents his findings in a way very few people can. On Tuesday (2/15/22), Allen told us the story behind the Thomas Jefferson letter to Danbury Baptists.
In 1801, Danbury, CT Baptists crafted a letter to then President Thomas Jefferson. They were expressing their frustration with the amount of influence the Congregational churches had over decisions in the Danbury area. The Baptists argued that it's not religious groups that should set the taxes or move the economy, these decisions should be made independent of any religion.
Their letter worked, and they'd found a sympathetic ear from Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson penned a response on January 1, 1802 and this is what he wrote:
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Jan. 1. 1802.
This reference to the separation of Church & State has been famously cited by courts in America ever since. Sadly, Thomas Jefferson never visited Danbury but I've been told a copy of this letter hangs in the Marian Anderson rehearsal hall of the Danbury Music Center.
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