Freedoms of thought, conscience, and belief are universal human rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Rights and other international treaties. The United States protects freedom of religion and promotes religious tolerance both at home and abroad.
In 1790, the first President of the United States, George Washington, encapsulated this spirit in a letter to a group of early settlers in their Newport, Rhode Island congregation. He wrote in the letter that the United States would “give to bigotry no sanction,” and that each individual could hold his or her religious faith as an “inherent natural right.”
In honor of Washington’s birthday on February 22, the U.S. Embassy in Ashgabat is publishing the letter as an affirmation of the United States’ commitment to promoting religious freedom and tolerance around the world.
George Washington’s Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island
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.