Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom 

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom 

U.S. #1099 was issued for the 300th anniversary of the “Flushing Remonstrance.”

On January 16, 1786, Virginia enacted Thomas Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom.

Since the first British settlers arrived in Virginia in 1607, the official church of the colony had been the Church of England. Citizens were required to attend the church’s services and pay taxes to support the ministers.

The British had passed an Act of Toleration in 1689, which gave Protestants that weren’t part of the Church of England some liberties. However, they still had to pay taxes that supported the clergymen of the Church of England, and their weddings had to be performed by that church as well. Additionally, the church had a significant influence on governmental functions including relief for the poor and care of orphans. Many laws also favored Anglicans and discriminated against other religions. By the mid-1700s, those that opposed the Church of England, particularly Presbyterians and Baptists, were openly persecuted. Their ministers were jailed for disturbing the peace and preaching without licenses.

U.S. #1099 – Classic First Day Cover.

James Madison deeply opposed what was going on, and suggested to the Virginia Convention that they include “free exercise of religion” in their 1776 Declaration of Rights. However, this wasn’t specific enough to solve the major issues, namely, whether the state would have an official church and support it through taxes. Later that same year, Madison and Thomas Jefferson were part of the Committee for Religion in the House of Delegates and helped to end the religious tax on those that weren’t part of the Church of England. Many other restrictions on religious liberties were still in use, but they were reduced during the war.

U.S. #28 is from the first series of perforated U.S. stamps.

In 1777, Jefferson wrote A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, which declared, “Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.” After Jefferson was elected governor two years later, John Harvie submitted the bill to the House of Delegates. There were strong arguments for and against it, and it was eventually tabled for consideration at a later date.

U.S. #479 was often used to send heavy machine parts to Russia during WWI.

As the war neared its end, Virginia’s House of Delegates was largely composed of Anglicans, and the requests by the opposition for greater religious freedom went unheard. In 1784, they passed a resolution calling for an annual tax that people would pay to their choice of church. If no church was selected, the tax would go to schools, which were largely run by the churches. Thousands of Virginians opposed the idea and sent in petitions against it. Eventually, the tax was dropped and James Madison seized the opportunity to reintroduce some older bills to change the state’s laws. Among these was Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom.

U.S. #1312 was issued for the 175th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

There was some opposition in the General Assembly, with some trying to weaken the statute. But it was eventually passed with few changes on January 16, 1786, and signed into law three days later.  Jefferson’s Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, also known as the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, is considered one of the most important laws ever passed by the Virginia Assembly. The statute called for the separation of church of state and granted complete religious freedom to all Virginians.

Three years later, Congress looked at the statue for inspiration when they were working on the Bill of Rights, and included the free exercise of religion in their document. Jefferson considered the statute one of his greatest accomplishments and wanted it to be included as one of just three acknowledgments on his headstone (along with the Declaration of Independence and the University of Virginia).

Click here to read the full text of the Statute for Religious Freedom.

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On January 12, 2017, outgoing President Barack Obama surprised his Vice President, Joe Biden, with a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama called Biden, “the best vice president America’s ever had” and a “lion of American history.”


On August 21, 2017, Big Ben chimed for the last time. That day, the 158-year-old clock tower began a series of renovations that are expected to last about four years.



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4 responses to "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom "

4 thoughts on “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom ”

  1. Thank you for highlighting this matter. So many of us have forgotten, ignore or have never known that our Founding Fathers were strongly for the separation of church and state and religious tolerance, and against any national religion.

  2. “Freedom of Religion” means that you are free to practice whatever religion YOU choose (or NO religion, if that is your choice) and NOT a religion that the GOVERNMENT chooses for you (and forces upon you). In that sense, you also have “Freedom from Religion” – the right to choose NO religion for yourself. However, “Freedom from Religion” does NOT mean that you have the right to never read, see, or hear anything, anywhere, anytime about any religious beliefs. “Freedom from Religion” does not mean that you can coerce, or force someone else into silence. You can ignore someone else’s religious beliefs, if you choose; but you cannot suppress their rights, nor can you force someone else to believe what you believe, even if what you believe is nothing (in religious terms). I am personally not a person who practices any particular religion, or Denomination; however, I DO respect other’s rights to practice their faith -whatever faith that may be.


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