A Letter from George Washington To Donald Trump

In August of 1790 President George Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue of Newport Rhode Island.

Like most American Jews at the time and millions more who would seek refuge in the United States since then - having experienced profound discrimination, persecution, and violence in Europe - the synagogue congregants were concerned with securing their rights and well-being in the United States.

The congregants sought confirmation that the United States government would not sanction such bigotry and discrimination and would honor and protect the civil and political rights of its nascent and then tiny Jewish minority ensuring their safety, freedom, and equal protection before the law.

Washington responded to the congregants who had written to express their congratulations on his election and to affirm their commitment to the government and people of the United States. He stated,

"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."

This letter from President Washington has meaning beyond the particular Jewish community to which it was addressed at that specific time and in that context.

It remains significant to the American Jewish community today as a vigorous affirmation of American democratic ethical, legal, civic, and political values.

Beyond the Jewish community is resonates potentially for all Americans.

In honoring and championing the rights of Jewish Americans to freedom of religion and equality
Washington was honoring and championing the rights of all Americans.

This includes individuals and communities of all faiths - Christians and Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists, Bahais and Yazidis, amongst others.

As religion and philosophies of ethics and community develop, and as increasing numbers of Americans identify as humanists, atheists, and agnostics, this promise of George Washington to 'give bigotry no sanction and persecution no assistance' applies no less to them as freedom of religion is predicated on freedom of conscience and on respect for an individual's right to determine his or her spiritual beliefs and practices.

Donald Trump would do well to read George Washington's letter and to reflect upon its values, its promise, and its commitment.

It is our moral and civic responsibility to ensure that Washington trumps Trump.

Muslim Americans equally wish to have the spirit and promise of George Washington's letter to the Jewish community of the Touro synagogue in Rhode Island respected with regard to them as individuals and as a diverse community.

Incitement against them, pandering to fear and driving up hostility towards them, and failing to appreciate their individual humanity and dignity and to uphold their civil, political, and human rights is a great affront to a fundamental founding principle of the United States.

It is a threat to Americans of every faith and no faith and it is a threat to all Americans.

As Americans, we can reaffirm the commitment to religious freedom and pluralism of President Washington and honor the best of the American moral and political tradition.

It is a spiritual one as well that transcends all religious differences and reminds us that indeed, our common humanity unites us before the law and before one another.

Washington closed his letter with a powerful vision of freedom, coexistence, and religious equality and of the rights of religious minorities and all religious communities; it is a fitting wish for the American people, then, now, and always which is predicated on every generation of Americans reaffirming Washington's commitment to religious freedom and liberty of conscience for all Americans.

"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. May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy."