Oops! There’s probably a few red faces in the Orange County-based Backyard Skeptics today. The group which is very active at putting up atheist and secular-themed billboards in their part of Southern California, was apparently not skeptical enough when choosing a Thomas Jefferson quote for their latest billboard which was just erected at 1545 Newport Blvd., in Costa Mesa and scheduled to be unveiled on Wednesday.
The billboard features the face of America’s 3rd president and the following quote:
“I do not find in Christianity one redeeming feature. It is founded on fables and mythology.” — Thomas Jefferson
The only problem with the quote is that Jefferson probably never made it. The Jefferson Library collection at Montecello, which is considered the authority on everything Jefferson, features it in a list of spurious quotes on their website.
From an Oct. 26 article in the Orange County Register:
“We (the Jefferson Library) are asked about this one on a fairly regular basis. As with many spurious Jefferson quotes, it is frequently seen on various Internet sites. Many sites do not cite a source, but a good number of those that do attribute this quote to a letter from TJ to a ‘Dr. Wood.’
“As far as we know, TJ never wrote to an individual calling him/herself Dr. Wood. Another suspicious element is the statement that he does not find in Christianity ‘one redeeming feature.’ One presumes that Jefferson did, in fact, find some redeeming features in Christianity, otherwise he would not have taken the time to paste together his own versions of the Bible.”
To his credit, Bruce Gleason, the leader of Backyard Skeptics, has acknowledged the error:
I have an apology to make to the secular community. Although I placed the “Jefferson” billboard up in good faith that this quote was made by Jefferson, I have now learned that it was not. It was started in 1906 by an unknown author. I have requested the billboard to be replaced with a previous secular billboard we have used. Although the quote was not known to be of Jefferson, he had plenty to say about religion and Christianity…
You can see the full text of Gleason’s statement and a list of other, hopefully more carefully-checked, Jefferson quotes on religion here.
If you enjoy my articles, you can click on “subscribe” at the top of the page and you’ll receive notice when new ones are published.