George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom

Washington’s Words and Actions

George Washington

Portrait of George Washington (1732–1799) by Gilbert Stuart in 1797

George Washington believed that religion in general was beneficial to the citizens of the United States, and to the stability of the nation itself. His letter to Newport Jewish Congregation is the clearest testament to his belief, but he expressed its ideas on several occasions.

In a 1789 letter to the Quakers, Washington wrote: “The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their conscience, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights. While men perform their social duties faithfully, they do all that society or the state can with propriety demand or expect; and remain responsible to their Maker for the religion or modes of faith which they may prefer or express.”

Most importantly, Washington expressed his belief in religious liberty through his actions. This can be seen in his ordering members of the Continental Army not to show anti-Catholic sentiments by burning an effigy of the Pope on what is known as Guy Fawkes Night, a tradition then observed by English Protestants to celebrate the discovery of a plot Catholics in 1605 to assassinate King James I.

For more information about George Washington and Religious Freedom, you can explore the following:

George Washington and Religion, Mount Vernon Estate

PBS Series: God in the White House