From: "Bill of Rights Institute" <>
Date: March 1, 2011 11:29:25 AM PST
To: "Vic Ulmer" <>
Subject: George Washington's words on Religious Liberty | Constitution Courier eLesson

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The Bill of Rights Institute
The Bill of Rights Institute

Dear Vic,

Though Colonial America was more tolerant of religious diversity than Europe, it had not yet become a beacon of religious liberty. The absence of liberty weighed on the minds of people like Moses Seixas, Warden of the Jeshuat Israel Synagogue in Rhode Island.

On behalf of his congregation, Seixas sent a letter to George Washington expressing gratitude and delight that Constitution would give “to bigotry no sanction, [and] to persecution no assistance.” In his reply, Washington reinforced the confidence Seixas’ placed in the Constitution by stating: “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights.”

This marked a transition away from toleration (government granting the privilege to worship) and towards religious liberty (religious belief or non-belief being an inalienable right of the individual). Months after Washington’s visit, the First Amendment was added to the Constitution, declaring that: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

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This Week's Lesson:
George Washington's Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, RI

How to use this eLesson

Use these extensions to teach your students about the Bill of Rights in this week's lesson on George Washington's Letter to Moses Seixas and the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island and accompanying interactive quote-matching game:

-- Encourage students to use the original text of the two letters found on our website to understand the context of the dialogue.

-- Despite having strict rules against an establishment of religion at the federal level, several colonies and early states had official religions. Ask students to research religion in the states. Our America's Founders Online gallery can be a great starting point! 

-- How have the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise clause been interpreted over time? Have your class use our Landmark Supreme Court Case listing to research a historic case about religious freedom and the Bill of Rights. 


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With expanded resources about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and more!


Explore more about George Washington's letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island, in Religious Liberty: The American Experiment. This curriculum features several lessons that contain background essays, primary source analysis, and many engaging activities that you can use with your students today! All of the lessons are in line with national civics, history, and social studies standards, and are prepared by historians and First Amendment experts.

Get your copy of Religious Liberty: The American Experiment today and continue investigating our liberties, our diversity, and the Bill of Rights.

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