On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew Congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, wrote to President Washington expressing its gratitude that the government of the United States gave "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." To which Washington replied, "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 natural rights."
Washington went on to say:
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.
Religious liberty is one of the rare and remarkable achievements by the United States. It was difficult to achieve - and it's easier to lose than we might think. For public figures to stoke the embers of Muslim bigotry - to believe, in Michael Gerson's phrase, that every serious Muslim is a recruit for sedition - is a moral offense. And be forewarned: it won't stay confined. Bigotry rarely does.
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