Sunday, January 29, 2023
WaPo opinion piece: Do you think the United States is a ‘Christian nation’? George Washington did not.
Washington Post Op-Ed: Do you think the United States is a ‘Christian nation’? George Washington did not.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, Rhode Island, thanking them for their good wishes from him.
He wrote: “The citizens of the United States of America are entitled to applaud themselves for having given mankind examples of a broad and liberal policy, a policy worthy of imitation. Everyone equally possesses the freedom of conscience and the immunities of citizenship. He added: “Tolerance is no longer 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 intolerance no sanctioned, persecution is not assistance, it only requires that those who live under its protection behave as good citizens by providing effective support on all occasions.”
To a people long denied citizenship in the Old World, kept apart from their Christian neighbors, Washington was explaining something quite revolutionary: America does not simply tolerate Jews; Jews are part of the United States. As the Touro Synagogue in Newport explains on its website: “The letter assured those who had fled religious tyranny that life in the new nation would be different, that religious ‘tolerance’ would give way to religious freedom, and that the government I wouldn’t interfere. with individuals in matters of conscience and belief. …
Those who view the United States as a “white Christian nation” would do well to reflect on Washington’s letter. His final passage, speaking in terms familiar to Torah people, stands as an eloquent rebuke to that notion: “May the children of Abraham’s lineage who dwell on this earth continue to deserve and enjoy the goodwill of others. inhabitants, while each one will sit safe under his own vine and fig tree and there will be no one to frighten him.”
The Founding Fathers are often criticized (or excused) on issues of race and gender as men caught up in blind vision of the past. But in this case, the most esteemed American of his time clearly saw beyond the common prejudices of his day. For that reason, he earned a special place in the hearts of American Jews. … We Jews will continue to be a part of the American experience as long as Americans of any religion or no religion heed Washington’s warning.
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