The President's Corner
Over the years I have written quite a lot about religion in this column, as my own faith is very important to me and I have always been fascinated with other faiths. As I pen this article, I am listening to our local public radio station (90.3 FM - WCPN) report about the disastrous attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It is reported that 11 Americans have died practicing their First Amendment right of free exercise of religion. Therefore, it is with a heavy heart that I write this piece.
At this point little is known about the accused gunman, however, it is safe to assume that he is an anti-Semite who feels that Jews have no place in American society. Assuming this, it is obvious that he is also not a very good student of American history, nor a patriot.
I am a great admirer and student of George Washington. The Father of our Country has much to teach us about many different topics on many different levels. That is why I was recently honored to be asked by the education department of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Frederick W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington in Virginia to present to teachers from around the nation about how to incorporate the teaching of George Washington into classrooms today. I plan to share with the teachers several of the writings of General Washington, as the study of primary sources is a very effective way to learn. These sources challenge students’ higher order thinking skills by training them how to think critically like historians and create meaning and connections on their own.
One of the documents I plan to share with the teachers is the following beautiful letter that President Washington wrote to the Jewish congregation of Newport, Rhode Island on August 21, 1790. Like my students, I will let you decide for yourself what George Washington felt it means to be an American in the context of religion.
While I received with much satisfaction your address replete with expressions of esteem, I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you that I shall always retain grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced on my visit to Newport from all classes of citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security.
If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good government, to become a great and happy people.
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.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my administration and fervent wishes for my felicity.
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.
Parma City Council President Sean Brennan