Tuesday, February 22, 2011

George Washington (February 22, 1732)

In Reform Jewish Sunday School we learned about George Washington's letter to the Jewish congreation at Newport, in which he explicitly avows the equal rights of Jews to worship and to be citizens of the new country. Even as children we were made to understand how this was a major change in European attitudes, as important to the often persecuted Jewish minority as the invention of democratic government. In the history of American freedom of religion this is an important document, and by implication it is also a foundation for freedom to abstain from religious practice -- not a given in earlier societies either.

Echoing a letter from the Newport congregation leader, Washington wrote to them:
"All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens."
For more details see this article.

No comments:

Post a Comment