George Washington's Defense of Religious Freedom

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Statue of George Washington at Federal Hall Memorial. (Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

The document that marks our Independence Day is, of course, the Declaration of Independence. But there’s another document worth looking at today, written by another founding father, that tells a story not just of liberty, but of religious tolerance.

The letter was penned by George Washington to a Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. In it, our first president vowed that America would give “to bigotry, no sanction, to persecution, no assistance.”  The letter is widely regarded to be Washington’s most eloquent statement on religious liberty, and for the last decade it had been lost and hidden from view in a warehouse in Maryland.

It’s since been recovered with the help of the Jewish Forward — the largest Jewish newspaper in the country. And it is now on display at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.

Jane Eisner is The Forward’s editor-in-chief. She pushed to get the letter displayed to the public.


Jane Eisner

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [5]

Brandt Hardin from Nashville

On Independence Day we should celebrate our Constitutional Rights and Freedoms which so many men and women have fought for- including Freedom of Speech, Religion, Assembly and Press. The art of film has been one of the most powerful vessels for conveying the importance of these rights. Check out the Top 10 Movies of All Time about FREEDOM on a special 4th of July post today at to see some impassioned portrayals of our basic rights.

Jul. 04 2012 03:26 PM

This would have been a good opportunity to mention the Catholic institutions that are suing the Obama Administration regarding their First Amendment rights or the historic possibility of the first Mormon President.
Of course both of those points run contrary to the progressive narrative and therefore ignored.

Message to future leaders?
When swearing an oath over the Bible to preserve and protect the US Constitution, simply take it seriously and reflect on the sacred promise every day of their term of office.

Jul. 04 2012 09:10 AM
anna from new york

Why is this moron who babbles about "civility" The Forward's editor-in-chief?
Yes, dear moron, "civility" is our concern - we don't have any others.
Maybe actually the paper should be run by immigrants and not but corporate overfed, overprivileged and overprimitive "babblers" who have not knowledge of Judaism, Jewish history and the traditions of the paper they run (to death)

Jul. 04 2012 07:02 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The Church isn't trying to 'read Christianity into the Consitution', they are asking to be able to not be asked to do things that against its beliefs and teachings. To not be asked to act against its conscience.

The government is trying to establish secularism as the religion of the country.

Jul. 04 2012 06:30 AM
Ed from Larchmont

Today the Catholic Fortnight for Freedom comes to a close, a fortnight of prayer that our freedom to practice our religion will be protected, in good conscience, as the founders established.

Jul. 04 2012 06:02 AM

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