Thomas Jefferson’s Religious Views and Their Influence on the Supreme Court’s Interpretation of the First Amendment
WithDavid Little*
Pages 16

This chapter summarizes the pervasiveness and significance of the belief with regard to Thomas Jefferson’s views of religion and of the relation of religion to the civil order. It explores a very preliminary manner, the influence of this belief—with its implicit disparagement of all reasons for action, including religious reasons—on the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the first amendment. Jefferson stressed free debate among different religious points of view in the Preamble to the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, where he asserted that discussions lie beyond the regulation and restraint of governmental power. Religious disputes, like all arguments about theories and beliefs, simply distract people from the sure, simple guide of common sense: they amount, he once wrote, to “the charlatanry of the mind.” The regulation and direction of the civil order itself depends on adopting a set of beliefs and values about the world that necessarily has implications for religious beliefs.