National Constitution CenterCenturies of Citizenship: A Constitutional Timeline Exhibit
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1765-1786: We win a hard-fought Revolution and seize its promise of liberty

January 16, 1786
Freedom of religion becomes the law in Virginia

Thomas Jefferson and family

“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions”
—Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson must be smiling. Today brought a great victory in his decade-long struggle to guarantee religious freedom.

In passing his statute, Virginia agrees that religion should be inspired by faith, not mandated by law.

No longer is there an “official” religion in Virginia, or special privileges for members of the official church. Some states already guarantee individual religious freedom, but Virginia’s going further. The state will stay out of religious matters entirely.

Will this idea catch on?

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