Thomas Jefferson was the author of religious freedom in America… as the First Amendment borrows its language from his Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom. Like all men of the Enlightenment, Jefferson believed it was built upon the individual. The individual was born free to worship, or not, in anyway he saw fit.
“…nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”
Jefferson clearly draws the line between the public citizen and his private religious beliefs… the freedom to worship remained a private decision- not to be propagated in the public sphere. Jefferson acknowledged the dangers of a state-sponsored religion, but he also realized that religious zealotry could threaten civil liberties.
He cautioned his friend, James Madison:
“The declaration that religious faith shall be unpunished does not give immunity to criminal acts dictated by religious error.”