Today is Presidents’ Day in the United States. It is a day to honor America’s presidents, beginning with the first, George Washington.
George Washington achieved lasting fame for leading Americans to victory in their long war for independence from Britain. He played a decisive role in the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the establishment of the American government. And as America's first president, he set an example of unselfish service and forbearance in the use of power that won the admiration of the world.
George Washington's leadership was marked by his religious faith and his tolerance for the beliefs of others. A devout Christian, Washington believed that God was the source of man's fundamental rights and of legitimate political authority.
One of the most important basic rights is freedom of religion. In a letter to Baptists in Virginia who were once persecuted by the British colonial authorities, Washington wrote, "no one will be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against every species of religious persecution." A Protestant himself, Washington appointed Roman Catholics to important positions and spoke out against anti-Catholic prejudice.
In a letter to a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island, he said the United States gives to religious "bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." To American Quakers, he wrote, "the liberty enjoyed by the people of these states, of worshiping Almighty God agreeably to their consciences, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights."
For George Washington, tolerance did not conflict with faith. True faith, in his view, required respect for the rights of others. In his farewell presidential address, he urged Americans to act in accordance with their religious beliefs. "Observe good faith and justice towards all nations," Washington said. "Religion and morality (require) this conduct."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting American ideals and institutions.