The Rotunda as seen from the east colonnade

The University of Virginia and Thomas Jefferson’s Battle for Religious Freedom

Date & Time

November 12, 2016 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am


Alumni Hall Ballroom
211 Emmet Street South
Charlottesville, VA



Thomas Jefferson is well-known as one of the founders of American religious freedom and the separation of church and state; yet, while he strongly opposed government involvement in religion, he always expected Americans to be privately religious. In designing the University of Virginia, he worked diligently, against considerable political opposition, to ensure that the University did not actively promote religion but left religious matters to the students. Almost two hundred years later, in Rosenberger v. UVA (1995), the Supreme Court adopted a “neutrality principle” — government must neither promote nor discriminate against religion – a decision with which Jefferson would undoubtedly have been pleased. John Ragosta, Fellow, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, History Faculty, Randolph College, and UVA’s Summer Jefferson Symposium Faculty Leader, will address Jefferson’s role in defining American religious freedom, his plans for UVA, and the modern religious freedom issues with which we continue to grapple.


John Ragosta, PhD, JD

Fellow, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities; Faculty Director, Summer Jefferson Symposium

John Ragosta, a historian, lawyer, and award-winning author, has taught law and history at the University of Virginia, George Washington University, Oberlin, Hamilton, and Randolph Colleges. Ragosta has held fellowships at the International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello and is currently a fellow at the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Since 2012, Ragosta has successfully led three engaging Summer Jefferson Symposium weekends with participants from around the country.

He authored Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed, released in 2013 by the University of Virginia Press, and Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia’s Religious Dissenters Helped to Win the American Revolution & Secured Religious Liberty from Oxford University Press in 2010.

Before returning to academia, Ragosta was an international trade and litigation partner at Dewey Ballantine LLP.

He is also a beekeeper.