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President George Washington’s famous letter “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island” of August 18, 1790, is a response to a letter of the previous day penned by Moses Seixas on behalf of Congregation Yeshuat Israel. Seixas’s letter gives thanks to God for the religious liberty afforded at last by a government “erected by the Majesty of the People” and an “equal and benign administration.” This, after centuries of persecution and oppression of the descendants of Abraham by governments worldwide. Read more

The Constitution of 1787 said little directly about religion, with the notable exception of a ban on religious tests as a requirement for federal office. When Washington was elected president, the Bill of Rights had not yet been adopted. Despite this, in his response to a congratulatory note sent to him by a group of Jewish Americans, President Washington characterized religious liberty not as a gift of government or a matter of toleration, but as a natural right possessed by every human being. Read more