Thomas Jefferson on Religious Freedom

There is no more complex man in American history that Thomas Jefferson. He issued conflicting comments of several issues. Some conclude he was hostile to Christianity. He was not. He was cool toward organized religion, but not Christianity. An evidence of this is his close friendship with Baptist minister John Lelland a dynamic voice in the issue of religious freedom. As Leland’s gratitude for Jefferson’s friendship and support for his endeavors on behalf of religious freedom Leland did a most uncommon thing. An ardent supporter of Thomas Jefferson, Leland became famous for his media-savvy strategy to signal the Baptists’ support of the newly elected president in 1801: the gift of a giant wheel of cheese. Reportedly made from the milk of 900 Republican cows, the cheese measured 4 feet in diameter, 13 feet in circumference, and weighed 1,235 pounds. Emblazoned on its red crust was Jefferson’s favorite motto: “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.” As the giant cheese made the month long journey from western Massachusetts to Washington, D. C., pundits lampooned, ridiculed and celebrated the “mammoth cheese.” On Jan. 1, 1802, Jefferson welcomed Leland and his flamboyant gift into White House. Two days later, Leland delivered the Sunday sermon to the church which regularly met in the House of Representatives, with the president in attendance.

As an aside, Jefferson reputedly gave more money to more churches in Washington than anyone. He often attended the church that regularly met in the House of Representatives. Another church met regularly in the Supreme Court building.

Jefferson’s letter to the Baptists, of which Leland was one, was to assure them there would be no state supported church and all churches would be equal.

So much for separation of church and state.