I found Thomas Jefferson’s remarks regarding religion in his Notes on Virginia  very thought-provoking. The topic of religious freedom is being debated a lot in the media today and Jefferson’s views on the topic seemed very relevant to the issues.  The current debate about vaccines and religious freedoms that have arisen from the measles outbreak seemed to tie into Jefferson’s argument about how religious freedoms should be applied.

Jefferson states “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbors to say there are twenty gods or no God”. ( Cummings 157).  Jefferson is arguing that the government should not dictate religious beliefs someone should have, he believes that government’s role is to protect the citizens against injury.  Since belief in God or gods or no god can not injury a person, the government should not regulate the institution of religion.

With the December 2014 outbreak of measles that originated at Disneyland, attention has been focused on parents who chose not to vaccinate their children.  Although there are many reasons parents give for not vaccinating, on of these is based on religious freedom.  Parents believe that based on their religious beliefs, vaccines are not what God wants for their children.  John Coy, of California believes that he has received spiritual guidance from on high and that holds more authority that the federal government.  That is the reason he refused to fully vaccinate his children (Florido).  However, Catherine Martin of the California Immunization Coalition disagrees,  “The Supreme Court and other courts have ruled consistently that religious belief does not give you the right to infect other people with disease” (Florido).  This seems to be in line with Jefferson reasoning that government powers should extend to injurious acts committed by others.  While it is fine to say “I believe God says vaccines are bad”, sending your child to school to infect other children causes injury.  It goes beyond your religious freedom, it infringes upon others’ right to life and liberty.  What do you think?  Do vaccines violate religious freedom or not?


Cummings, Michael S. “Thomas Jefferson: Principle and Progress.” American Political Thought. 7th ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2015. 154-167. Print.

Florido, Adrian. Southern California Public Radio. KPCC, Pasadena. 6 Feb. 2015. Web. Transcript.

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