Monday, February 15, 2010

Heritage Foundation Finds Religious Tolerance on President's Day.

I subscribe to The Morning Bell, a daily email publication by the ultra-conservative Heritage Foundation. Always good to know what ahistorical, revisionist work they're up to. Usually I'm rightly disdainful of most of the shit they post and rant about. But today, I'm happily surprised to say, they got it just about right:

First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen

This season’s snow falls and Snowpocalypse presents a great opportunity to remember our president who also suffered through the cold to save the Republic.

Happy William Henry Harrison Day! No wait. That is not right.Failing to wear a coat in cold weather is not the same asdefeating the British during a blizzard.

The third Monday in February has come to be known—wrongly—as President’s Day. But, this is not a day to celebrate every president in our Nation’s history: like one who served only a month in office. This is the day that we celebrate the man who led America to victory in the War for Independence, who was instrumental in the creation of our Constitution, and whose character forever shaped the executive branch. We celebrate George Washington. That’s why it’s Washington’s Birthday; not President’s day.

What makes George Washington a great president, worthy of such celebration, and example to all other presidents? In short, he was committed to the principles of the American Founding. Liberty, Natural Rights, Equality, Religious Liberty, Economic Opportunity, the Rule of Law, Constitutionalism, Self-government, National Independence: these are the truths that George Washington held.

Matthew Spalding, in his latest book We Still Hold These Truths, explains each of these first principles in depth and often points to Washington as an exemplar practitioner. For instance, Spalding points to an important series of letters to different religious congregations as an example Washington’s commitment to the principle of religious liberty. In a letter to a congregation of Jewish people, one of the most persecuted religious minoritiesin all history, Washington explains:
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.

Washington understood that citizenship did not require professing particular religious doctrines. Nor does the possession of rights depend upon one’s membership in a certain race or social class.

Not all presidents are George Washington. But all presidents—and all Americans—can and should dedicate themselves to preserving American’s First Principles.

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