Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson, (1743-1826), US Founding Father, drafted the Declaration of Independence, 3rd US President

Famous Thomas Jefferson Quote

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are only injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

Thomas JeffersonThomas Jefferson
~ Thomas Jefferson

Ratings and Comments

Donovan, Chicago

Thus, any attempt to extend one's views on religion to others--whether by Christendom, Communism, Islam, Humanism or other--is a violation of freedom.

E Archer, NYC
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E Archer, NYC Donovan, Chicago 4/25/19

Any attempt BY THE GOVERNMENT to extend one's views on religion is a violation of freedom.  Freedom of religion includes the freedom of speech to express it.  And we are free to respond in kind.

Josh, Palm Springs

I think that Jefferson was saying that since voicing one's views cannot harm you, there is no need for government to interfere, so long as it isn't the government trying to extend the views of one particular sect or creed. Freedom of speech doesn't just include the right to speak your mind without fear of censorship, it also includes the freedom to turn off the radio, turn off the TV, or walk away from the protest rather than whining to your local politician about how your rights were violated because you had to listen to someone else's drivel

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    Anonymous    3/15/09

    Yes. Thank you, Thomas Jefferson. Unfortunately, the government still seems to think it's okay to endorse theism when it's obviously unconstitutional.

    Mike, Norwalk
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    Mike, Norwalk Anonymous 3/11/19

    Anonymous, to explain a specific correctness to your otherwise intended erroneous rant: tenants of the god state (theism) religion include, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, financing the indigent, sheltering the homeless, giving aid to the sick and otherwise afflicted, define attributes of religious sacraments such as marriage, moralize, endorse and sponsor human sacrifice to the gods of pleasure and life style and all else the god/state, national establishment of religion unconstitutionally enforces. The occupying statist theocracy infesting this land also obviously endorses, through treat and duress, unconstitutional compelled compliance, victimless crimes, government licenses, larceny with impunity (2nd plank of the communist manifesto, Social Security, police state confiscations, etc.), socialist theism, non-recognition of perfected allodium, inalienable rights and the laws of nature and of nature's God.

    Dani, Coppell

    In other words, the only authority government should have is the power to stop people from harming each other. Nothing more.

    Ron Price, Indianapolis

    Do as you will but harm none. How can I say that my beliefs are truer than yours? We have Unalienable Rights. If only the people could actually understand the power we have. When the people lead the leaders will follow. JustMyThoughts42.

    J Carlton, Calgary

    All of this is fine...provided the government does not try and take the role of "God Himself". Jefferson was wise beyond his time.

    LibertyForUSA, Charleston

    No, it is NOT a violation of freedom to extend one's views on their religion to another, Donovan. That would, however, be a violation of a person's free speech, to say that a person cannot sharebe their views. Religion becomes a problem when the govt tries to force you into it. Thus, it does you no injury if someone tries to share their religion with you. It might annoy you, but it doesn't pick your pocket nor break your leg.

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      Abby    9/10/12

      In defense of the 1st Amendmet (First portion): "Congress shall make no law respecting an establisment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." Gov cannot say: you will now all belong to and be loyal to and attend the (put any church, temple, synagog, mosk, here) ___ or be fined or jailed. Thus, you have the LIBERTY TO CHOOSE to attend somewhere or stay home, or believe nothing. YOU HAVE THE FREEDOM to choose for YOURSELF. And equally, the gov CANNOT DENY another their freedom of choice to do the same. Therefore, one CAN extend their beliefs to you, however, you can turn on your heel, change the subject, leave the building, etc., and neither of you will have given up freedom here, Donovan in Chicago. Freedom of religion has been allowed and your freedom to leave has been allowed as well. It is why in America, a place people came to escape religious persecution and still do, we have a great many faiths and beliefs, and why we exercise tolerance.

      Mary - MI
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      Mary - MI    9/10/12

      Under the founding of this great Limited Republic we have the unalienable right to practice a religion or to practice none. We have the right to say or do as we wish as long as we cause no harm to another individual or their property. The government cannot establish a state religion and neither can it deny an individual a right to practice their beliefs.

      jim k, Austin, Tx

      Jefferson was one of the greatest men whoever lived. Comparing him to someone like Harry Reid would be as a giant to a cockroach.

      E Archer, NYC

      For centuries, religion and government were combined -- indeed one's legs would be broken (and worse) if you did not adopt the beliefs of the rulers -- this was one of the reasons people left England and Europe for the new world. In America, freedom of religion was unique in all the known world, and one could choose from dozens of belief systems and the fellowships that resulted from them. Of course, in those days, various Christian traditions were the norm, and as past generations were forced to accept them, a tradition of religion was well ingrained in the People -- and specifically Christian faiths, often at odds with each other (e,g, Calvinists vs. Catholics). Even in the new world, the Puritans punished dissenters cruelly. I would ask those 'conservatives' that seem to be really 'Christian' religionists to consider that Jefferson's Declaration of Independence uses the terms 'our Creator' and 'Nature's God' as a foundation of our natural born and inalienable rights -- not Jesus, or any specific Christian reference to a god. With all we know today about the origins of the Roman Catholic church, I think it is more than fair to say that it is no more 'truth' than Judaism, Islam, Mithraism (which shares most of the Jesus story with Christianity and preceded it by several hundred years), or the ancient Egyptian solar mythos. If there is ever a chance of peace in this world, we must come to terms with these facts and the words of Jefferson. Most of the support for the US wars in the Middle East are from 'Christians' who believe Islam is taking over the world -- which it may well be, but not because we have put Jefferson's words into practice -- in fact it's because we have NOT. (Neither have they put the words of Jesus into practice either I might add.)

      Robert K. Greco, Ney York City

      Greatest and wisest man who ever lived. If he could see what this country has become, he'd turn over in his grave.

      Anonymous, san jose

      while it is true that my neighbor can share his thoughts on religion with me, I should have the right to say I do not want to listen and he shuts up. just like I have the right to say I don't want to hear the gossip about Frank, and the neighbor follows me around, yelling and telling me, even when I plead for him to let me be.
      "your right to throw a punch stops at the edge of my nose".

      Jeremy S., Lexington

      He's saying that the government's power to act extends only when a person's activity harms someone else's. It does him no harm what his neighbor's religion is, so he doesn't care. This line sums up to me the reason that government should not be able to prohibit gay marriage. I am a conservative, but my outlook on gay marriage is: it doesn't harm me, so what do I care?

      James, Washington, DC

      He is speaking here of the government's authority to punish. It can't punish that which is not harmful to others. He is NOT speaking about whether people who do believe can use religious principles of thought to vote or support legislation or whether people who believe (or who don't believe) can try to spread their beliefs as they see fit. Of course they can. He is a chief proponent of the idea that we have complete freedom to act upon our religious convictions, including in the public forum (he chose to have his authorship of the Virginia Statue For Religious Freedom engraved on his tombstone rather than his presidency). I have a somewhat low opinion of the quote for other reasons, particularly because he doesn't seem to have a very robust idea of what impacts others or is harmful to others. If people have false conceptions about God, if they can't agree on basic terms of morality, this impacts the unity and cohesion of the republic. While this doesn't mean his conclusion is wrong (it isn't... in our system there should be no punishment for religious beliefs or lack thereof), I respectfully believe that certain beliefs (or disbelief) can indeed be harmful to the larger community.

      Gerrit, SLC

      I would have to say that we as a people have become vastly polarized. We've taken sides, turned on each other, and now wish to force the opposition to agree with our opinions. If you believe that gay marriage is right, good for you, but the majority of you all need to chill the heck out. You claim freedom of expression yet deny it to others, i.e. those who disagree with your marriage. I believe it is unnatural and against God's will, but so long as it doesn't effect me, you could marry your dog for all I care. Just stop the bigotry against religious people. If you don't agree with it, then don't bother yourself with it, but don't deny other people their freedom to express their opinions/believes. They may be wrong or right, but like Jefferson said, 20 gods or one so long as it doesn't negatively impact me, I don't care.

      Ron, Sacramento

      Apparently, Thomas Jefferson never met a Muslim.

      Mama G, Tucson

      People of no faith are so quick to claim that the government is advancing theism, so, are they OK with the government and the public square being proponents of a-theism? Places where mention of God by any name is banned? Then a-theism becomes the state religion. Sticky wicket, that.

      Ronw13, OR

      To establish a nation of Freed people, set at Economic liberty, it would be required to separate "church and state", for/because any religious secs that would condoned the practice of socialism by force, slavery and servitude are found contrary to sound doctrines in support of a Freed people set at Liberty. Thing that are different are not the same. 

      Mike, Norwalk

      ABSOLUTELY ! ! ! We hold this truth to be self evident.

      Mary, MI
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      Mary, MI    3/12/19

       I will repeat what I formerly stated on 9/10/12:
      Under the founding of this great Limited Republic we have the unalienable right to practice a religion or to practice none. We have the right to say or do as we wish as long as we cause no harm to another individual or their property. The government cannot establish a state religion and neither can it deny an individual a right to practice their beliefs.

      Kevin, Old Town

      Maybe he's saying he thinks that government should not associate with any religion because it has the power to impact many peoples' lives. And if they do so because a particular religion directed them to, it clearly shows a dangerous impact on society founded under religious bias. If one person is or is not religious, it doesn't matter what someone else says about it. But it does matter if the government gets to say anything about it. That's why he advocated a separation of church and State.

      Ongytenes, Deep South

      Madison originally wasn't for a bill of rights as he was afraid it would lead to the government using it as a list of rights and deny people of other rights not listed . Hence the Ninth Amendment making it clear there are rights not listed in the Constitution.  He had opponents trying to block him from getting votes needed to represent Virginia in ratifying the Constitution.  He was forced to visit special groups to win their vote. One was the Baptists in Virginia. The state church was the Anglican church. Virginia imposed a tax for the church and forced people to take their babies to be baptized by the Anglican priests or suffer being flogged in the public square. Madison met with John Leeland, the most prominent Baptist minister. He gave Leeland his word he would try and do something. This lead to the the 1st Amendment we know today.

      John Galt, Everywhere.

      So I have to recognize transgender people?  Hmm.  Not sure how Jefferson would feel about that. 


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