With all the crap going on in the USA right now over "Religion" I thought that a few people might be interested in what George Washington, commonly known as the father of our country, had to say about what religion means in the US.
In the summer of 1790 Washington made a visit to the Jewish congregation of New Port, New Jersey. Later they sent him a letter thanking him for his visit and asking just how safe it would be for Jews to live in the new country. You might understand that they have a reason to be worried about their safety. Every member of every minority religion in the US had and has a reason to worry about their safety. Just like Muslims do now.
Washington gave his reply in a letter that should be taught in every school in the US. I actually did learn about it in school, from a Jewish teacher.
George Washington replied with an eloquent letter stating his position on the subject. I include the full text here, the highlighting is my own.
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.
It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were 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 in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.
May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.
G. WashingtonIt is important that when you read this that you understand what "tolerance" meant at the time. It is not what we think of now. In places with a state religion, such as England in the 1700s, all citizens were required to be members of that state religion. No other religions were tolerated. That is, no other religion was allowed. There were criminal penalties for being a member of another religion. Some countries had toleration laws. That means that other religions were allowed, but usually some rights were lost or members of tolerated religions paid a tax to the state religion even though they were not members of that religion. Only in the USA did people have the natural right to believe any damn thing they want and to practice their religion as they see fit so long as it does not infringe on other peoples natural right to do the same thing. A natural right is one you are born with, no one gave it to you, and no one can take it away.
When our political leaders call for religious discrimination, when they call for imposing their religious beliefs on other people, they are saying that George Washington was a liar. They are calling our entire revolution a lie. They are saying that the United States is a lie. They are saying that everyone who has died for our natural rights since long before July 4, 1776 died for a lie. They are saying that they died for nothing.
What I see happening in the USA right now brings me to tears. I am so frustrated by this crap. I really can't think of anything else to say. I guess I'll end by saying that hatred is not supposed to be an American value.