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The Danbury Association

Baptists have a long history of taking pride and ownership in their country and involving themselves in their self-governance. The often misunderstood phrase "separation of church and state" is derived from a letter between the Danbury Baptist Association and President Thomas Jefferson as they sought his willingness to keep the state from interfering with the free exercise of their religion. He agreed and affirmed their shared commitment to protecting their freedom of religion. Neither party's intent was to preclude religious people from participating in the government of the nation but simply to avoid the oppressive heavy hand many had experienced under the rule of the state church in England.



The Danbury Baptist Association, founded in 1790 in Connecticut, played a significant role in shaping the discourse of religious freedom in the United States. While it was a regional entity, the association's influence far surpassed its immediate sphere due to its interactions with prominent figures, most notably, Thomas Jefferson. In the late 18th century, Connecticut was unlike many of the other states. It had an established church, the Congregationalist Church, which was supported by taxpayer money. Baptists, as dissenters from the state church, faced discrimination. The establishment of religion by the state meant that those who were not part of the Congregationalist Church were treated as religious minorities, leading to differential treatment, including taxes that supported a church they did not belong to and restrictions on where they could worship.

In this context, the Danbury Baptist Association was formed. It provided a platform for Baptists in the region to consolidate their efforts, voice their grievances, and advocate for religious freedom. As a united front, they were better positioned to challenge the prevailing system and negotiate with political leaders.


The most well-known event in the history of the Danbury Baptist Association was their correspondence with President Thomas Jefferson in 1801. Concerned about their religious liberties, they penned a letter to Jefferson congratulating him on his election but also conveying their anxieties regarding religious freedom under the Constitution. They sought assurance that their rights to religious liberty would be protected and that no denominational church would be established as the national church.


Jefferson's reply, dated January 1, 1802, has since become a cornerstone in the interpretation of the First Amendment. In his letter, he emphasized the principle of the separation of church and state, stating that there exists a "wall of separation between church and state." While the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution, Jefferson's metaphorical usage of it in this letter has been influential in shaping subsequent interpretations and rulings related to the First Amendment.

The correspondence between the Danbury Baptists and Jefferson highlighted the national significance of the challenges faced by religious minorities, even in a country that had thrown off the shackles of religious monarchy. While the Baptists in Danbury were primarily seeking clarity and assurance for their own situation, their actions inadvertently shaped broader discussions on the topic.


In conclusion, the history of the Danbury Baptist Association is emblematic of the struggle for religious freedom in the early United States. Through collective effort and strategic communication with key figures, the association not only secured its own rights but also left an indelible mark on the interpretation of religious freedom in the nation. The Danbury Baptists' interactions with Jefferson serve as a poignant reminder of the ongoing dialogue and negotiation that underpins the foundation of American religious liberties.

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Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens...are a departure from the plan of the holy Author of our religion...No man shall be compelled to frequent or support religious worship or ministry or shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.


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