2016 Sunset Report

OLG & DCRT Strategic Plan
2020-21 through 2024-25


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A Wall of Separation Between Church and State

Colonial Catholicism Events Surrounding the Purchase A Wall of Separation The Battle of New Orleans
W.C.C. Claiborne and The State Seal The Arrival of Religious Diversity Religion, Race, and Slavery Antonio Sedella & Religious Diversity

At the time of the Louisiana Purchase, debates about the proper relationship between Church and State raged in the national press and consciousness. Today, Americans still debate the significance of the First Amendment requirement that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” In trying to determine the proper balance, legal scholars and jurists have relied on a phrase that appears in a letter President Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Danbury Baptist Association in which he opined that the First Amendment built “a wall of separation between Church and State” (Library of Congress documents).

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Letterpress copy of President Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association
Jan. 1, 1802
Thomas Jefferson wrote this letter to the Danbury Baptist Association with two aims. The first was to put into circulation a “condemnation of the alliance between church and state.” The second, was to explain why he, as President, did not think it was appropriate to “proclaim fastings and thanksgivings as [his] predecessors did.” The letter appeared in a Massachusetts newspaper the following month and was included in a collection of Jefferson’s writings published in 1853.

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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Letter from President Thomas Jefferson to the Ursuline Nuns
May 15, 1804
President Jefferson wrote this letter to the Ursuline Sisters in New Orleans who were uncertain what the status of their property was under the new United States administration. In writing the President, they sought assurance that they would be able to retain their independence and continue to engage in their charitable and educational works without interference from the civil state.

Jefferson commended their work and assured them that civil authorities had no intention of interfering in their affairs or abridging their property rights.

Loaned by the Ursuline Convent Archives and Museum