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Church to keep Jefferson name

April 27, 1997

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ Delegates from Unitarian Universalist churches in five Southeastern states have voted to continue calling their region the Thomas Jefferson District.

They had considered changing the name because Jefferson, a strong proponent of religious freedom, owned more than 130 slaves.

The delegates, from North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia, met here Saturday to consider the name change. Seventy-five of the 126 delegates voted to drop the Jefferson name, falling nine votes short of the required two-thirds majority.

``Jefferson was a racist, there’s no doubt,″ said the Rev. Doug Reisner of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, a congregation that favored keeping the name. ``But so were probably 98 percent of the white people alive back then ... But on the other hand, he’s done more for religious freedom than probably any other person.″

Unitarian Universalists have long viewed Jefferson as a champion of religious freedom, which is central to church’s tenants. But critics within the church have questioned whether a slave owner serves as an adequate symbol in today’s world.

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