RELIGIOUS FREEDOM Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed
For over one hundred years, Thomas Jefferson and his Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom have stood at the center of our understanding of religious liberty and the First Amendment. Jefferson’s expansive vision—including his insistence that political freedom and free thought would be at risk if we did not keep government out of the church and church out of government—enjoyed a near consensus of support at the Supreme Court and among historians, until Justice Rehnquist called reliance on Jefferson “demonstrably incorrect.” Since then, Rehnquist’s call has been taken up by a bevy of jurists and academics anxious to encourage renewed government involvement with religion.
In RELIGIOUS FREEDOM: JEFFERSON’S LEGACY, AMERICA’S CREED (April 2013; UVA Press), historian and lawyer John Ragosta offers a vigorous defense of Jefferson’s advocacy for a strict separation of church and state. Beginning with a close look at Jefferson’s own religious evolution, Ragosta shows that deep religious beliefs were at the heart of Jefferson’s views on religious freedom. Ultimately revealing that the great sage demanded a firm separation of church and state but never sought a wholly secular public square, Ragosta provides a new perspective on Jefferson, the First Amendment, and religious liberty within the United States.
John Ragosta is Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Hamilton College.
PUBLICATION DATE: April 2013
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“John Ragosta offers a robust defense of the Jeffersonian legacy of religious liberty, using his careful exploration of its history to help us understand contemporary debates about the proper roles of church and state in American life.” —Joyce Appleby, UCLA, author of The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism
“For historians and legal scholars, Ragosta provides an important contribution to an ongoing discussion. . . . Excellent and meticulously done.” —Johann Neem, Western Washington University