State and federal lawmakers blasted President George W. Bush's policies on church-state separation during an Aug. 17 event at historic Touro Synagogue in Newport, R.I.
The legislators had gathered for the annual reading of George Washington's 1790 letter to the synagogue vowing that the religious freedom rights of Jews would be protected in the United States. The letter is an important early affirmation of the need for religious liberty and church-state separation in America.
Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline used the occasion to chastise Bush for trying to merge religion and government.
"[Bush] uses the authority of the presidency to involve this government more fully in religious matters a danger to all religions, a danger to the survival of our democracy, a danger to our people," Cicilline said, the Providence Journal reported.
Continued Cicilline, "This administration has engaged in policies that have clearly blurred the line separating church and state. They have blurred that line more than any other administration."
Cicilline went on to criticize Bush for promoting faith-based initiatives.
U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) was also on hand. After the ceremony, Reed told the Journal, "[Bush has] proposed many initiatives that would directly give money to religious institutions that could discriminate in hiring and proselytize. Policies should respect the separation of church and state, and it's dangerous what this administration is doing with their faith-based initiatives."
U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) echoed that concern, remarking, "The foundation of our nation's Constitution is the separation of church and state. And it is being undermined, now more than any other time in our nation's history, by the Bush administration."
Members of the Newport synagogue wrote to President Washington during his visit to that city to welcome him and express their happiness that Jews enjoy meaningful religious liberty in the new nation. In his reply, Washington assured synagogue members that their rights would be secure in America.
"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," wrote Washington. "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. 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 Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, lauded the Rhode Island officials for their support of religious liberty.
"George Washington eloquently assured the Touro congregation that the new nation was committed to religious freedom for all Americans," Lynn said. "George Bush should do the same. Bush should drop his scheme to subsidize religious discrimination with public funds."