Hinduism Today Magazine Issues and Articles
Analysis
Category : April 1988

Analysis

Hindu Principles of Religious Freedom In the Thinking and Writing of Thomas Jefferson; Jefferson's "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom" Was the First Law in America to Explicitly Recognize the Rights of Non-Christian Religions



Devalok, Yogi Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence and 5th President of the United States of America, was instrumental in setting America on the course to the religious freedom it enjoys today. His "Virginia Statute" left out explicit references to Christianity, thereby allowing equal treatment under the act to people of any (or no) religion. Yogi Devalok proposes in his analysis that many of Jefferson's ideas are reminiscent of the ancient Hindu teachings on the religious duties and rights of man.

Would it surprise you to learn that Thomas Jefferson, one of American's greatest statesmen, took an active role in promoting Universal dharma? In 1977, Jefferson authored "The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom." The universal respect for all faith reflected within it will remind the Hindu observer of the great Vedic principle of Sarvadharma Samabhava - "equal respect for all religions."

Jefferson did not accept the dogmatic theories of the established churches, preferring rather to take the ethical teachings of the Galilean master as a practical and rational means towards noble living. Jefferson's emphasis on sadachara ("right conduct") and lokasamgraha ("solidarity [or oneness] of the planet"), albeit in westernized forms, points either to a conscious or subconscious connection with the eternal Rita Dharma ("universal way of truth") of the Vedas.

Jefferson upheld and advanced major principles of Vedantic thought, such as the existence of Ekam Sat ("Truth is One") and diversity in unity, E pluribus unum (Latin for "one from many"), which he established as an American motto with two other early American statesmen. Samadhrsit ("equal vision") as the basis for the protection of natural right under law, and Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuda Vadanti ("unity amidst plurality") were among other Hindu principles that he advocated.

Yet the real genius of Jefferson was in his ability to translate the theory of Rita dharma into effective political and civil practice through his creations of dharma-based political documents and dharma-based laws. Indeed, his accomplishments in this area will remind Hindus of King Ashoka and Rajarishi Janaka of India, who both very effectively mixed spiritual wisdom and political power.

In 1777 Jefferson authored and in 1786 saw his "Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom" become law in the state of Virginia. In his notes on it he made it clear that under its broad mantel, Hinduism along with all other faiths would be given full protection. Jefferson stated, "An amendment [which proposed to insert] the words, 'Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion,' [was rejected] by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and the infidel [any non-Christian] of every denomination." This shows the accommodating and universal position that America is dedicated to defend. Not only the Judeo/Christian tradition but all religious traditions were granted full freedom and civil protection by the Virginia Statute authored by Thomas Jefferson.

Thus it seems clear, Jefferson established the founding principles of America - universal dharma and universal religious freedom - on the two pillars of Vedantic thoughts - equal vision (equality) and unity in diversity. His Declaration of American Independence established dharmic equality, and his Virginia Statute established unity in diversity.

Article copyright Himalayan Academy.