Thomas Jefferson was the Founding Father who was a leader of meetings that led to our Constitution, and he had strong views on the separation of church and state. It is a propitious time to recall these views, since the subject of vouchers and public support for private and/or religious schools is being debated. “Jefferson believed it unjust and unwise to use public funds to support an established church and to link civil rights to religious observation. He said such a system led to ‘spiritual tyranny.’” (He would have been confirmed in this belief to see such tyranny in the Middle East, e.g. in Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan.)
“Jefferson concurred with Christian tradition that held that the church should not depend on state-enforced compulsion.” And that “Our Savior chose not to propagate his religion by temporal punishments or civil incapacitation.” And “It does not speak well of the power of God, if He needed a human government to prop Him up.”
The quotes in this letter are from the best-selling history: “Jefferson: The Art of Power” by John Meacham. The Meacham book has extensive quotes on this subject from Jefferson and other Founding Fathers and should be consulted for the full statements. The point for our times is that using public funds for religious purposes, such as allowed in the voucher program, is a very slippery slope and is banned by our Constitution.
William A. Pryor
LSU, Boyd professor emeritus