Jefferson on Religion in Public Education

by Robert M. Healy, Yale Press, 1963

I purchased this book sometime prior to 1965. Years ago I opened it and noticed a passage which always stayed with me. I thought I remembered it being in a FOOTNOTE. Finally today I took the book and looked through it for an hour. I discovered the passage and it is much as I remember it but it is not a footnote.

Page 96

The Source of the Variety of Opinion

The rationale behind Jefferson’s efforts to bring about freedom of opinion is not always clear; ultimately it seems to be based on two conflicting motives. The first goes back to the hypothesis, which Jefferson evidently accepted in common with members of the American Philosophical Society, that ideas are determined by the structure of the brain and that since each man’s brain is to some extent physically unique, his opinions must be expected to be so too. To Jefferson thinking, like gravity and magnetism, was a property or mode of action of matter. Thought was therefore determined by the structure of the thinking organ.

In line with this, Jefferson made remarks such as “Our opinions are not voluntary” ; “Differences of opinion … like differences of face, are a law of nature, and should be viewed with the same tolerance” ; and, “As the Creator made no two faces alike so no two minds and probably no two creeds.”


Tolerance was not a means of promoting free discussion by which men could approach truth. It was merely an acceptance of the Creator’s intention that all men think differently.


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