George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

In the Blogosphere

Read what some of the world’s leading bloggers and web authors have to say about religious freedom, separation of church and state, and the George Washington Letter. The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom presents a spectrum of views so you can consider the issues fully.

“To Bigotry No Sanction”

Jewish Virtual Library

American Jewish Historical Society

On August 17, 1790, Moses Seixas, the warden of Congregation Kahal Kadosh Yeshuat Israel, better known as the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, penned an epistle to George Washington, welcoming the newly elected first president of the United States on his visit to that city. Newport had suffered greatly during the Revolutionary War. Invaded and occupied by the British and blockaded by the American navy, hundreds of residents fled, and many of those who remained were Tories. After the British defeat, the Tories fled in turn. Newport’s nineteenth-century economy never recovered from these interruptions and dislocations.

Washington’s visit to Newport was largely ceremonial—part of a goodwill tour Washington was making on behalf of the new national government created by the adoption of the Constitution in 1787. Newport had historically been a good home to its Jewish residents, who numbered approximately 300 at the time of Washington’s visit. The Newport Christian community’s acceptance of Jewish worship was exemplary, although individual Jews such as Aaron Lopez and Isaac Elizer were unable to obtain full political equality as citizens of Rhode Island. The Jews of Newport looked to the new national government, and particularly to the enlightened president of the United States, to remove the last of the barriers to religious liberty and civil equality confronting American Jewry.

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The Priority of Religious Liberty

By Andrew J. Ratelle
Courtesy: The Distributist Review. Copyright © 2013
Published December 15, 2012

“And there shall be none to make him afraid.”

These days, the words of the prophet Micah would be an odd fit in a presidential address. With a large segment of society standing by with their slings and arrows of “establishment clause” and “separation of church and state” at the ready lest any politician or statesman appear too attached to his religious convictions, lines from the Bible can be difficult to get by within a setting apart from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.

But once upon a time, it wasn’t so difficult. At the very dawn of his administration, that icon of the American presidency, George Washington, addressed the Hebrews of Newport, Rhode Island, with such just words. “There shall be none to make him afraid,” the new president wrote, assuring that each man “shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree” and “continue to merit and enjoy the good will” of the citizens of a newly-founded nation.[1]

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An Additional Reading for Passover

“To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance”

by Michael Feldberg, Executive Director, George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

Copyright ©2012

At Passover, Jews retell the story of their liberation from bondage under the ancient Egyptian Pharaoh. Today, for American Jews it is easy to take religious freedom for granted. We learn in school that the first colonists came to America for religious freedom, and that America was founded to defend that principle. But for most of the colonists, freedom was intended only for those who believed in one or another mainstream Protestant form of worship. Jews, Baptists, Quakers and Catholics often were not allowed to worship in public or hold elected office. On occasion, members of religious minorities were banished, whipped or even hanged for expressing their beliefs.

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