CNN Rush Transcript-
FBI Officials Decipher Strike-Outs in Jefferson Letter on Church and State
Aired June 1, 1998 -8:42 p.m. ET
TERRY FRIEDEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
In this letter written in 1802, President Thomas Jefferson proclaimed there must be a wall of separation between church and state. That crucial line from Jefferson's letter to a Baptist group in Connecticut became a cornerstone of U.S. law. Great debates in Congress and the Supreme Court about such issues as prayer in school have centered on Jefferson's principle. But now, nearly 200 years later, the FBI's high-tech lab has been able to reveal the words which Jefferson had crossed out in his original draft. And the top manuscript scholar at the Library of Congress says the changes reflect not pure philosophy, but partisan politics. Jefferson changed his words to suit advisers.
JAMES HUTSON, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS:
To soften the tone, Jefferson scratched out the word "eternal" before "wall of separation," and he scratched out "temporal," meaning secular, in describing his role as president. Jefferson had been attacked and called an atheist by political enemies for refusing to proclaim a special Thanksgiving feast. His letter was a response to that attack, but in a margin note, he concedes he made changes to appease supporters.
They said, you can't do that because in New England, people cherish days of Thanksgiving.
This all comes to light, because the FBI lab was asked to find a way to recoverthe words, which Jefferson had obliterated.
DONALD KERR, FBI LAB DIRECTOR:
It was strike-outs by the same writer using the same pen and ink.
DIANA HARRISON, FBI DOCUMENT ANALYST:
Actually, I didn't think it would work.
But, with the help of a lab photo expert, a scanner, and computer, the problem was solved.
JEFF BELL, FBI LAB PHOTOGRAPHER:
And I started working with a document analyst to start picking out each letter.
It took nearly six months. Scholars say this is unlikely to suddenly alter the debate over church and state. But the letter, with a wide-ranging exhibition on religion in the colonies, will be on display at the library of Congress from Thursday through late August, and scholars there say they cannot predict what the impact will be.
-Terry Frieden, CNN, Washington.
Autobiography, by Thomas Jefferson • Jefferson's Historical Writings • Six Historic Americans
Jefferson's Letters • "Jefferson on Religion" • Jefferson's Writings • University of Virginia • Site News Index