…We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; self-evident, that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & they are endowed by their creator with certain iunalienable rights, that among which them are the preservation of life, &liberty, & the pursuit of happiness. …
– Thomas Jefferson’s working draft of the Declaration of Independence
The tension between freedom and governmental imposition of specific religious beliefs and practices were evident at the very founding of our nation. That tension continues to this day as some attempt to re-write and whitewash history in order to promote the myth that our country was founded as an explicitly “Christian nation.”
But Thomas Jefferson poses a significant problem for the “Christian Nation” advocates, given Jeffeson’s rather unorthodox religious beliefs. He described himself as the sole member of a sect including no one but himself. He edited his own Bible (known today as The Jefferson Bible) by taking the pages of a standard Bible and rearranged selected verses in chronological order while omitting references to angels, miracles, the Trinity and the divinity and resurrection of Jesus. Politically, his beliefs translated into a strict dividing line between government and religious affairs. In 1801, the Danbury Baptist Association wrote to Jefferson complaining that the state of Connecticut did not recognize their religious liberties as an “unalienable right” but rather as a privilege granted by the state legislature. Jefferson responded with his now-famous “Wall of Separation” letter:
To messers Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem.
(signed) Thomas Jefferson
The fight to “restore to man all his natural rights” continues. Happy Independence Day.
THE DAILY AGENDA:
Pride Celebrations This Weekend: Arraial, Portugal; Belfast, UK; Budapest, Hungary; Cologne, Geramny; Kolkata, India; Madrid, Spain; Munich, Germany; Lisbon, Portugal; Porto, Portugal; Prince George, BC; Schwerin, Germany; Sheffield, UK; Sundsvall, Sweden; Victoria, BC;
Other Events This Weekend: Tokyo International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, Tokyo, Japan.
TODAY IN HISTORY:
“Annual Reminder” Pickets at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall: 1965-1969. The Fourth of July commemorates the day in which a group of second class citizens decided that it was finally time to not only declare their independence, but also their dignity for having been created equal and endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, not all Americans gained their freedom on that date in 1776. Instead, that marked the starting point for a long struggle, one which nearly destroyed the union almost a century later, and one which continues today. The 1960s will be long remembered as an important era in that struggle as racial barriers began to fall across the nation. But barriers against gay people held fast. In 1965, gay people were prohibited from holding jobs with the federal government by an Executive Order, homosexuality was illegal in every state in the country except Illinois, and gay people were regarded as mentally ill by the American Psychiatric Association.
To protest those conditions, LGBT activists, under the collective name of the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO), met at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on July 4, 1965 for a demonstration to remind their fellow Americans that LGBT people did not enjoy some of the most fundamental of civil rights. Thirty-nine activists, including Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and Kay Tobin, picketed in front of Philadelphia’s potent symbol of freedom, carrying signs reading “15 million homosexual Americans as for equality, opportunity, dignity,” and “homosexuals should be judged as individuals.
East Coast activists had already staged several pickets in 1965 before descending on the City of Brotherly Love. There had been pickets in front of the White House (see Apr 17, May 29), the Civil Service Commission (see Jun 26), and the United Nations in New York City (see Apr 18). But it was the Philadelphia protests which proved to be the most enduring. Dubbed the “Annual Reminder,” the picketers returned to Independence hall every year from 1965 to 1969, using the occasion of the American Independence Day to remind Americans that freedom was still an elusive dream for many of their fellow citizens.But with 1969’s Stonewall rebellion, the gay community gained an independence day all of their own. The “Annual Reminder” for 1969, occurring just a few days after that declaration of freedom on Christopher Street in New York, would be the last. In 1970, organizers decided to end the July 4 pickets in favor of the Christopher Street Liberation Day celebration on June 28 to commemorate the first anniversary of the riot. We’ve been celebrating Pride as a commemoration of our declaration of independence ever since. But the Annual Reminder hasn’t been forgotten. In 2005, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission erected what is reported to be the first historical marker to recognize and celebrate LGBT history to commemorate those early protests in front of Independence Hall.
Happy Independence Day.
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And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?