Today, on Memorial Day, a blogpost to the contrary reminds me that one of the freedoms that our honored military dead fought to defend was the freedom of religion--religious liberty is often referred to as the "First Freedom" because the framers of the Constitution placed it first in the Bill of Rights. President George Washington wrote to the leaders of several faiths, assuring them of the importance of religious liberty in our young country.
A couple of years ago i visited the Truro synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, and they have a copy of a letter that Moses Seixas sent on behalf of the congregation to President Washington when he visited in 1790, and President Washington's unambiguous reply:
To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island.
While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in 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 was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. 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 figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.
I am so thankful to be living in a country that protects the religious freedom of all its citizens, not just some. And i am grateful to those who fought to protect those and all our other freedoms.