Thomas Jefferson and Tax Exemptions for Churches
Chris Rodda printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Nov 04, 2007 at 10:22:40 PM EST
This is the third part of an item by item debunking of a list of claims from D. James Kennedy's sermon on "The Real Thomas Jefferson," a sermon repeated on a number of occasions between 2002 and 2007.
(Watch the Coral Ridge Hour video from March 2006 here.)

In this installment, I'll be debunking one of the most popular claims on Kennedy's list -- the claim that Thomas Jefferson exempted churches from taxation.

The following is the "Real Thomas Jefferson" list, as it appears in Kennedy's 2003 book What If America Were A Christian Nation Again? (The items that are struck out are the ones already addressed in my previous posts, On the Loss of an Historical Revisionist and The real Thomas Jefferson is the ACLU's worst nightmare?):

...even as a nominal Christian, what Thomas Jefferson did is totally antithetical to everything the ACLU and others have told the American people. For example, summing up, author Mark A. Beliles has assembled an impressive list of some of Jefferson's actions as president:
  • Promoted legislative and military chaplains
  • Established a national seal using a biblical symbol
  • Included the word God in our national motto
  • Established official days of fasting and prayer -- at least on the state level
  • Punished Sabbath breakers
  • Punished marriages contrary to biblical law
  • Punished irreverent soldiers
  • Protected the property of churches
  • Required that oaths be phrased by the words "So help me God" and be sworn on the Bible
  • Granted land to Christian churches to reach the Indians
  • Granted land to Christian schools
  • Allowed government property and facilities to be used for worship
  • Used the Bible and nondenominational religious instruction in the public schools. He was involved in three different school districts, and the plan in each required that the Bible be taught in our public schools
  • Allowed and encouraged clergymen to hold public office
  • Funded religious books for public libraries
  • Funded salaries for missionaries
  • Exempted churches from taxation
  • Established professional schools of theology. He wanted to bring the entire faculty of Calvin's theological seminary over from Geneva, Switzerland, and establish them at the University of Virginia
  • Wrote treaties requiring other nations to guarantee religious freedom, including religious speeches and prayer in official ceremonies

No, my friends, the real Thomas Jefferson is the ACLU's worst nightmare!

As mentioned in the first part of this series, D.James Kennedy did not provide any sources for his list, other than attributing the entire thing to fellow history revisionist Mark Beliles. The source cited by Beliles for the claim that Jefferson exempted churches from taxation is vague, as his sources often are. Beliles lists nothing more than the Public Statutes, "Acts of the 7th Congress." Because this is such a popular lie, however, there is no need to speculate as to which acts Beliles might be referring to.

The claim that Thomas Jefferson exempted churches from taxation is based on nothing more than two acts, both passed on May 3, 1802, that indirectly led to the exemption of church property from taxation in the District of Columbia. There was no deliberate effort on Jefferson's part to exempt churches from taxes. In fact, neither of these bills that Jefferson signed even mentioned churches.

The first is the act of Congress incorporating the City of Washington. This act stated that the corporation could tax property, the only restriction being a limit on the amount of the tax. This, of course, also meant that the corporation could decide not to tax a property. This act did not contain anything specifically about church property. It was the trustees of the city who decided to exempt this property. But, because it was the act of Congress, by saying nothing on the subject, that had given the trustees the power to not tax church property, this act is sometimes cited as a source for claims that Thomas Jefferson exempted church property from taxes. The more popular tax exemption story, however, comes from a second act, passed on the same day as the act incorporating of the City of Washington.

Gary DeMar, in his book America's Christian History, quoting a book by Robert Cord, claims:

...if Jefferson "construed the establishment clause absolutely, he violated his oath of office, his principles, and the Constitution when, in 1802, he signed into federal law tax exemption for the churches in Alexandria County Virginia."

The act referred to in this lie did not grant a tax exemption to the churches in Alexandria County. It merely gave the authority to assess and apply the existing county taxes to different officials, solving a problem created by another act passed a year earlier.

The lie is based on the fact that Alexandria County, while it was part of the District of Columbia, remained under the laws of Virginia, just as Washington County, the part of the district ceded by Maryland, remained under Maryland law. In Virginia, church property was exempt from taxes, so church property in Alexandria County remained exempt from taxes. The act of 1802 had nothing to do with what could or couldn't be taxed. This had never been changed! What had been changed, however, by an act passed in 1801, was who had the authority to assess the taxes previously assessed by the county courts of Maryland and Virginia, which had lost their jurisdiction over the territory ceded by their states. As of the same date, residents of the ceded territory were no longer subject to state taxes, but they were still subject to county taxes, which paid for things such as county roads and the support of the poor within the counties. Since the county courts of Maryland and Virginia could no longer assess these taxes, Congress had to give someone else the authority to do this. The following section of An Act supplementary to the act intituled 'An act concerning the District of Columbia,' signed by John Adams on March 3, 1801, created and gave this authority to boards of commissioners.

Sec. 4. And be it further enacted, That the magistrates, to be appointed for the said district, shall be and they are hereby constituted a board of commissioners within their respective counties, and shall possess and exercise the same powers, perform the same duties, receive the same fees and emoluments, as the levy courts or commissioners of county for the state of Maryland possess, perform and receive; and the clerks and collectors, to be by them appointed, shall be subject to the same laws, perform the same duties, possess the same powers, and receive the same fees and emoluments as the clerks and collectors of the county tax of the state of Maryland are entitled to receive.(1)

Giving these commissioners the same powers as the levy courts of Maryland worked out fine for Washington County, which had been part of Maryland. It did not, however, work well in Alexandria County, which had been part of Virginia. The act of 1802 amended this section of the act of 1801, giving Alexandria County's justices of the peace the power to assess and apply the taxes in that county in the same manner as the Virginia county courts. The following section of An Act additional to, and amendatory of, an act, intituled 'An act concerning the District of Columbia,' passed on May 3, 1802, is the sole basis of the claim that Thomas Jefferson exempted churches in Alexandria County from taxes.

Sec. 6. And be it further enacted, That the taxes to be levied in the county of Alexandria, shall hereafter be assessed by the justices of the peace of the said county, and the poor of the town and country parts of the said county of Alexandria shall be provided for respectively, in like manner as the county and corporation courts were authorized to do by the laws of Virginia, as they stood in force within the said county, on the first Monday in December, in the year one thousand eight hundred.(2)

The misconception that, by this act of 1802, Congress adopted the Virginia tax code, thereby exempting church property at that time, began in 1970, when Chief Justice Warren Burger, in Walz v. Tax Commission of New York, misinterpreted this act's sixth section.

According to Chief Justice Burger:

It is significant that Congress, from its earliest days, has viewed the Religion Clauses of the Constitution as authorizing statutory real estate tax exemption to religious bodies. In 1802 the 7th Congress enacted a taxing statute for the County of Alexandria, adopting the 1800 Virginia statutory pattern which provided tax exemptions for churches.

Chief Justice Burger's erroneous statement works out very well for the Liars for Jesus, because the date of 1802 makes this a story about their favorite target, Thomas Jefferson.

Robert Cord, in his 1982 book Separation of Church and State: Historical Fact and Current Fiction, quoted Chief Justice Burger's statement, then commented:

The Chief Justice could also have noted, but did not, that Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States, did not veto this federal law on the assumption that it was or created "an establishment of religion" forbidden by the First Amendment. In fact, Jefferson signed it.

And, the claim that Thomas Jefferson exempted churches from taxation has appeared, in one form or another, in nearly every Christian nationalist revisionist history book since.

1. Richard Peters, ed., The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, vol. 2, (Boston: Charles C. Little and James Brown, 1845), 115.
2. ibid., 194.

When we discuss about Thomas Jefferson, there is a lot to share. But I am not going for that now. According to this article, I think it is very helpful to know the details of tax exemptions for churches clearly. Just go through this article and write down your views here!

hotel catalina   

by dona on Fri Jan 15, 2016 at 07:34:33 AM EST

I search the 'web I look for internet sites which utilize fantastic details along with additionally, subsequently, I located this web website. Commonly when I have actually been to this web website I have actually truly valued the exceptional message provided right here. see more info

by TimFink on Mon Jun 17, 2019 at 10:35:17 AM EST

WWW Talk To Action

Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (99 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (26 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (23 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (23 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (26 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (21 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (18 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (19 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (9 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (10 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (14 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (21 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (9 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (11 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (26 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (42 comments)
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (20 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (22 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (70 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (19 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (24 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (32 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (16 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (18 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (17 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (17 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (18 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (18 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (18 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (20 comments)

More Diaries...

All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.