How a Christian Congress embraced Jefferson’s ‘atheistical’ library Two centuries ago, a religiously uniform legislature planted the seed for a wide-ranging Library of Congress ← Related Article Visit The Boston Globe Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Comment on this Scroll to top of page A look at the Library of Congress and some of the tomes once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Jon Elswick/Associated Press/file 2010 Two centuries ago, a religiously uniform legislature planted the seed for a wide-ranging Library of Congress. Abby Brack Lewis/Library of Congress After the British burned the original collection in the War of 1812, Congress sought to procure Thomas Jefferson’s library at Monticello as a replacement. HARAZ N. GHANBARI/Associated Press However, Jefferson’s books included texts from a number of religious traditions. He owned a score of Bibles, a two-volume Koran, a history of “heathen gods,” and works by Deist philosophers—and that was precisely the problem. Such heterodox titles reflected his opinion that religion should be a personal affair, guided by curiosity and reason. In the end, the bill to purchase the collection passed, but barely. MARCY NIGHSWANDER/Associated Press/file 1997 True to Jefferson’s sense that “there is in fact no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer,” the Library of Congress today represents a proudly diverse American heritage of knowledge, interest, and belief. Pictured: The Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Lawrence Jackson/Associated Press/file In January 2007, Representative Keith Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota, became the first Muslim in the US Congress. He was sworn in on Jefferson’s own copy of the Koran.