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Religious tolerance, then and now

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With a battle brewing over the construction of a proposed mosque near Ground Zero, people on the streets of Washington, D.C. give their opinion.

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By Dana Milbank
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"To bigotry no sanction."

-- George Washington

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"Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate."

-- Sarah Palin

Two hundred twenty years ago today, the Jews of Newport, R.I., wrote a proclamation for President George Washington on his visit to their synagogue the next day.

"Deprived as we heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens," the Jews wrote to their famous visitor, we now "behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People . . . 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's reply the next day, a simple letter titled "To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport," set a standard for religious tolerance that guided the nation through two centuries. Here is that message in its entirety -- along with some alternative thoughts on the topic occasioned by the proposed mosque near Ground Zero:

Gentlemen,

While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.

"There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over. . . . Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington."

-- Newt Gingrich

* * *

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.

"9/11 mosque=act of fitna [Arabic for scandal], 'equivalent to bldg Serbian Orthodox church@Srebrenica killing fields where Muslims were slaughtered.' "

-- Sarah Palin

* * *

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.

"President Obama's support of building the mosque at Ground Zero is a slap in the face to the American people. . . . In fact, the majority of the country is strongly opposed to building a mosque at the site of the most tragic terrorist attack on America. I will continue to demmand [sic] President Obama to reverse his support on this."

-- Sen. David Vitter (R-La).

* * *

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. 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.

"The Ground Zero Mosque is not about freedom of religion, as President Obama claims. It's about the murderous ideology behind the attacks on our country and the fanatics our troops are fighting every day in the Middle East."

-- Carl Paladino, Republican candidate for governor of New York

* * *

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 figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.

"President Obama has this all wrong and I strongly oppose his support for building a mosque near Ground Zero, especially since Islamic terrorists have bragged and celebrated destroying the Twin Towers and killing nearly 3,000 Americans."

-- Jeff Greene, Democratic candidate for Senate in Florida

* * *

May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.

G. Washington

"Come on, we're going to allow that at Ground Zero?"

-- Rudy Giuliani

***

For more Post opinions on the New York mosque, read Michael Gerson's Obama's mosque duty, Eugene Robinson's Republicans pander over 'Ground Zero mosque', Richard Cohen's Obama muddles his mosque message, Charles Krauthammer's Sacrilege at Ground Zero and the editorial Obama needs to show leadership on mosque debate.


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