Monday, October 14, 2019

Separation of Church and State? Then why was church often held at the Capitol in D.C.?

I thought I'd bring your attention to a little-known fact about the early government of the United States that most people either don't know or don't want to admit.  Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd President, has been touted as being one of the least religious of our founding fathers and the originator of the idea and term, "separation of church and state"

Yet during his administration and that of James Madison, the state became the church. Within a year of his inauguration, Jefferson began attending church services in the House of Representatives, making it a habit to ride there every Sunday on horseback, rain or shine. In fact, it is said that Jefferson never missed a single church service, even in inclement weather. Odd for a man who wasn't religious at all and who supposedly wanted government to have nothing to do with religion. Hmmm.

Worship services in the House--a practice that continued until after the Civil War--were acceptable to Jefferson because they were nondiscriminatory and voluntary. During the years they were held there, preachers of every denomination, including Catholics and a female evangelist  appeared. The evangelist, Dorothy Ripley, even delivered a camp meeting-style exhortation in the House to Jefferson, Vice President Aaron Burr, and a "crowded audience."

Throughout his administration, Jefferson also permitted church services in executive branch buildings and allowed the preaching of the Gospel  in the Supreme Court chambers.
Only a rational person could come to the conclusion that Jefferson wasn't at all against the melding of religion and government. From various documents and letters, including the Bill of Rights, it seems obvious that he and the other founders were simply against having an imposed national religion. In fact, by attending church services on public property, Jefferson consciously and deliberately revealed his support to religion as a basis for good republican government. 

MaryLu is the author of more than 25 Historical Romances. She is best known for her award-winning series Legacy of the King's Pirates. 

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  1. Interesting post, MaryLu. I didn't know this about church services. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Interesting fact! Thanks for sharing.