Washington Post Op-Ed: Think America Is a ‘Christian Nation’? George Washington Didn’t., by Jennifer Rubin:
The Jewish community in the United States is as old as its democracy. In August 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R.I., thanking them for their well wishes.
He wrote: “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.” He added, “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.”
To a people long denied citizenship in the Old World, kept as a people apart from Christian neighbors, Washington was explaining something quite revolutionary: The United States does not simply forbear Jews; Jews are part of the United States. As the Touro Synagogue in Newport explains on its website: “The letter reassured those who had fled religious tyranny that life in the new nation would be different, that religious ‘toleration’ would give way to religious liberty, and that the government would not interfere with individuals in matters of conscience and belief.” ...
Those who view the United States as a “White Christian nation” would do well to ponder Washington’s letter. Its closing passage, which speaks in terms familiar to the people of the Torah, stands as an eloquent rebuke to that notion: “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.”
The Founding Fathers are often criticized (or excused) on matters of race and gender as men trapped in the blinkered vision of the past. But in this case, the most esteemed American of his time plainly saw beyond the common prejudices of his era. For that reason, he earned a special place in the hearts of American Jews. ... We Jews will remain part of the American experience so long as Americans of whatever faith or no faith heed Washington’s admonition.
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