Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, probably wouldn't have gotten along with our Founding Fathers. This is especially obvious when you compare George Washington's writings about religious freedom and Trump's call to ban all Muslims from entering the country.
Trump tried last week to walk back this proposal by saying it had been "just a suggestion." But even suggesting discrimination based on religion is anti-American, and enough to make Washington roll over in his grave. Just look at our country's formative years, when its first president declared he was strongly against depriving someone of their rights based on their religious beliefs.
Perhaps the most significant example comes from something he wrote in a 1790 letter to the nation's first Jewish synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, following a visit to the town. Although the Revolutionary War was over and the Constitution had been created, the First Amendment and the rest of the Bill of Rights still had to be ratified.
Moses Sexias, a Jewish community leader in Newport at the time, read aloud a letter to Washington during the visit. He had written it on behalf of the town's Hebrew congregation, according to the National Museum of American Jewish History.
In the letter, Sexias said he hoped the United States' new government would be one "which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance":
"Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People -- a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance -- but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine."
Washington wrote a response in which he repeated some of Sexias' words, affirming he agreed it was important to protect people from religious persecution (emphasis added):
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 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.
Washington concluded the letter by stating: "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 under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."
In other words, he believed no one in America should be afraid of facing harassment due to their religion.
This exchange took place 16 months before the First Amendment was added to the Constitution. The first president's words served as a "clarion call" promising a nation built on "not just tolerance, but full liberty of conscience no matter what one’s religious beliefs," according to the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.
Happily, the Government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. George Washington
Some Jews had faced religious discrimination in Colonial America, the BackStory podcast explained earlier this year.
"Washington was deliberately setting a precedent," the hosts said.
Jonathan Sarna, a historian at Brandeis University and guest of the show, agreed.
"We need to look at letters like George Washington's letter to help us understand what the great ideals are that help shape the American dream," he said.
Washington's assurance to the synagogue members also expanded on something he had said a few months prior.
"As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow, that all those who conduct themselves worthy members of the Community are equally entitled to the protection of civil Government," he wrote in March 1790 to Roman Catholics.
Three years later, Washington wrote to the New Jerusalem Church of Baltimore and said that a person's religion would not prevent them from enjoying the same rights as anyone else in the United States (emphasis added):
We have abundant reason to rejoice, that in this land the light of truth and reason have triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened age and in this land of equal liberty, it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.
More than two centuries have passed, and Trump has tried to argue that his proposed ban on Muslims is necessary because "we're at war." However, that would suggest the United States has declared war against an entire religion -- something that goes against Washington's insistence on religious freedom in this country.
Maybe it's best to give the last word to Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina GOP, who spoke out after Trump first suggested banning Muslims from entering the country.
We think Washington would agree with Moore.
Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist