New York Educators:
“To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance”—so wrote President George Washington in 1790 in a letter to the Jewish Congregation in Newport , Rhode Island about the obligation of the new American government to protect and preserve religious liberty.
What meaning do those words have today? We invite you to involve your students in a brief writing project that honors the unique role of religious freedom in American history and today.
Our students come to school from an ever–more diverse range of cultures, at a time when many questions and debates are raised around citizenship and belonging. We want to hear their thoughts on the challenges and promise of religious freedom in our ethnically and religiously diverse democracy.
President Washington’s letter spoke in the strongest possible way about America’s commitment to religious freedom:
"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…gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."
Read more  about George Washington, religious liberties, and the Bill of Rights.
Washington's full letter is a great primary source document for students to read and to think about its meaning and relevance in our globalizing society.
After your students read and discuss the full letter, we invite them to participate in a Student Essay Writing Contest in which each student imagines that he or she is George Washington writing a public letter about religious freedom and democracy today. What letter would you write? And to whom would you write it?
In planning your letter, you might want to think about the following:
- What messages do you think President Washington might have for us today about the liberty and equality that people should have in a democracy?
- What messages do you think he might have for us about people's freedom to practice different faiths?
- Are there any limits he might want to put on that freedom?
Contest Details and Student Recognition:
Letters must be 250 words or less and submitted by email to email@example.com  (put "GW Letter" in the subject line) no later than February 14, 2011.
Each entry must include: student's name, grade, name of school, and a brief explanation of why he/she addressed the letter to the person or people he/she chose. All students who submit letters will also receive a certificate of participation that can be included in school portfolios.
Selected students will be invited to read from their letters at a symposium (Give Bigotry No Sanction: Exploring Religious Freedom and Democracy) about religious freedom and pluralism that Facing History and Ourselves is hosting with New York University on January 31st.
A selection of letters will also be featured on the Facing History website, in upcoming podcasts and on other platforms (to be announced) leading up to Presidents' Day and the Department of Education's Respect for All Week  February 14–18, 2011.
Teachers and Students in other locations - Right now, we're working with teachers in the New York City area on the very first version of this program. Check back in the future for updated information about other location.