WASHINGTON, Feb. 22, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On February 23, 2011, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom and Facing History and Ourselves will co-host a symposium, "Give Bigotry No Sanction: Exploring Religious Freedom and Democracy," at the Washington DC Historical Society. Symposium participants include John Sexton, president of New York University; Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project; Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress; and Adam Strom, director of content, research and development at Facing History and Ourselves.
In January, the two organizations hosted a symposium on religious liberty at New York University attended by more than 250 people. The symposium series is part of a three-year initiative co-sponsored by the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom and Facing History. Its purpose is to prepare high school teachers to engage their students in discussions about religious freedom and separation of church and state. The curriculum uses President George Washington's Letter to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport of 1790. In that remarkable document, Washington pledged that the government of the United States would give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance." Washington defined personal religious belief in his letter as an "inherent natural right" belonging to every American citizen.
Rhode Island Students Receive Copy of George Washington Letter
In 2010, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom distributed a copy of Washington's Letter to the Hebrew Congregation to every junior and senior high school student in the state of Rhode Island. On Washington's Birthday, senior elected officials fanned out to leading high schools across the state. They read the letter with the students and discussed its relevance historically and in today's world. This year, the Rhode Island Department of Education urged every high school to conduct a Letter reading event.
New York Follows
With the cooperation of the New York City Department of Education, the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom extended the Letter Reading project to high schools in New York City. On February 15, Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer joined students at the Facing History School on the Upper West Side in a reading and discussion of Washington's Letter.
Long Range Plans
The goal of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom is to have Washington's Letter to the Hebrew Congregation read by students in schools across New York State in 2012. According to its founder, John L. Loeb, Jr., former US ambassador to Denmark, the target states for 2013 and 2014 are New Jersey and Connecticut. The Institute hopes in due course to promote reading of the Letter in school classrooms in all fifty states.
About the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom
The George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom supports efforts to educate students about religious liberty and separation of church and state through an exploration of Washington's Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, RI of 1790. In this historic letter, Washington promised that in the United States, "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship." The Institute supports educational programs for scholars, public figures, students and teachers who want to learn about and discuss religious freedom in America. Its founder, John L. Loeb Jr., has long advocated for interreligious understanding.
To learn more about the George Washington Letter and download it with supporting materials for classroom use, please visit www.GWIRF.org. To register for the symposium in Washington, DC on February 23, please visit www.facinghistory.org. To interview John L. Loeb Jr., please call 212-509-1500.
SOURCE George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom