George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

Brief History

After building the Loeb Visitors Center at Touro Synagogue National Historic Site in 2009, Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr. realized that his efforts to promote religious freedom and separation of church and state were hardly finished. The years of research and learning that went into creating the exhibits at the Visitors Center had built up a vast store of knowledge about the history of religious freedom in Rhode Island and the other American colonies. It revealed much about the role Jews had played in the emergence of the new nation. Above all, it provided in-depth information and analysis of Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation.

With this knowledge in hand, Ambassador Loeb founded the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom as a public, non-profit organization whose mission would be two-fold: to operate and maintain the Loeb Visitors Center and, secondly, to encourage students, teachers and other citizens about the vital message contained in Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation.

Among the Institute’s early accomplishments was publication of A Genesis of Religious Freedom: The Story of the Jews of Newport, RI and Touro Synagogue. The Institute also established an annual essay contest about Washington’s Letter at Rogers High School in Newport, RI and lectures on the Letter at various locations in Rhode Island and New York City.

As the Institute was a new organization with a small staff, Ambassador Loeb quickly decided that the most effective way for it to expose teachers and students to Washington’s Letter was to work with established civic education organizations rather than build up a large one of his own.

To date, the Institute has partnered with the First Freedom Center in Richmond, VA to focus First Freedom’s annual national essay contest on the relevance of Washington’s Letter to contemporary social issues. The Institute supported the development of teacher training programs based on Washington’s Letter at Facing History and Ourselves in Brookline, MA and the Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, VA. The Institute has also helped underwrite the Aspen Institute’s Inclusive America Project.

For a full listing of the Institute’s projects, partnerships and publications, please click here to view our “Major Accomplishments”.