Demean Themselves as Good Citizens
Washington frequently used this phrase in his writing. In the letter to the Baptists, Washington wrote: “Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” Washington is making a distinction between religious faith and religious observance – between actions of the mind and physical/social behavior. This is a distinction that has entered into constitutional doctrine. For example, the First Amendment asserts an absolute right to freedom of speech (“Congress hall make no law … abridging freedom of speech”), yet we all accept the legal doctrine that we are prohibited from frivolously yelling “Fire!!” in a crowded theatre, hoping to cause an audience stampede. Of course, you should yell “Fire!!” if there really is one. Similarly, one is free to believe that God demands of us that we sacrifice our firstborn child; the civil law, however, prohibits us from acting on that belief. We have absolute freedom of belief, but our freedom of worship is conditioned on its conformity with civil law.