Thomas Jefferson, Ally of Baptists in Securing
  Separation of Church and State, an Atheist?
















 Many conservative Christians of Jefferson's day accused him of being an atheist. Why?





A favorite tactic of many evangelical Christians today who embrace the myth of America being founded as a Christian nation, is that of pronouncing that almost all - if not all! - of  America's founding fathers were Christians.

Such a claim, however, is phony history - unless one wishes to argue that any vague belief in some kind of nebulous deity could be construed as Christianity. Very few, if any, of America's founding fathers shared the same Christian convictions of today's evangelical Christians who so desperately want to co-opt the founders for their own purposes.

Indeed, unorthodox, liberal religious (broadly speaking) views were far more characteristic of the founding fathers than evangelical Christian sentiments ... as conservative Christians of that day well understood.

For example, Thomas Jefferson, upheld as a godly Christian by many modern evangelicals, was - in his day and among his conservative contemporaries - widely considered as a heretic, infidel, and even an atheist.  

Many (if not most) historical volumes about Thomas Jefferson at least mention the accusations, from conservative Christians and politicians of theocratic persuasions during Jefferson's lifetime, of the founding father and president being an atheist, heretic and/or infidel.

To be certain, Jefferson did sometimes attend church, and occasionally spoke favorably of religion. Yet, his religious beliefs were deist at best, and he consistently spoke harshly against the Bible and Christianity. (See Jefferson quotes on religion here and here.)

Charles B. Sanford’s The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson (1984) provides lengthy evidence from many contemporaries of Jefferson. He references the hundred or so pamphlets and newspapers that accused Jefferson of being an atheist, infidel and/or heretic, as well as numerous sermons declaring that if elected, Jefferson would ruin religion, overthrow Christianity, and ban the Bible from the United States. Conservative Christians considered him thus throughout his life. Long after his presidential tenure, in 1830, the Philadelphia public library refused to include books about Jefferson on its shelves because he was considered an infidel and heretic.

Charles Lerche’s 1948 volume, Thomas Jefferson and the Election of 1800, further explores the popular Christian conception of Jefferson as atheist, heretic, and infidel.  Here is a newspaper illustration from the 1800 election period.

For examples of Christian preachers condemning Jefferson as a liberal, atheist, infidel and heretic, see pages 9 and 10 (including footnotes) of Thomas Jefferson and Political Preaching: Two Case Studies of Free Religious Expression in the American Pulpit. Some conservative preachers vilified Jefferson for (among other things) his Virginia Bill (Act) For Establishing Religious Freedom, on which Jefferson allied with the (also heretical and liberal) Baptists to pass in 1786; the Bill served as a model for the religious clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Also see these online articles that explore Jefferson's atheism:

The Fascinating History of the “Jefferson Bible”

Jefferson’s First Inauguration

Thomas Jefferson: “Atheist and Leveler From Virginia”

The Story of Jefferson's letter to Danbury Baptists