After sharing the letters between George Washington and the Hebrew congregation of Newport, RI with your students, you may want to ask your class to reflect on religion and freedom in America today by writing their own letters. Below are two examples of letters written by students Prince Taylor and Luis Santos, during their senior years at the Facing History School in New York.
Dear America of the future:
At the time of the birth of America there weren’t that many religions in our country and now that I look around I see how many religions occupying our nation. Seeing all these people makes me see how our dream of America has become a reality, we have truly accepted and welcomed all kinds of people. Our country was founded on religious beliefs and we were allowed to openly practice our religions without much discrimination.
What I have been seeing lately makes me wonder how blind our nation has become. Without the freedom to express religion, we are on our way to starting a war within our nation. Everyone should have equal rights to express their religion without being discriminated against. I did not fight for a nation that would exclude people just because of their religion. America of the future, you do not remember that when we were denied our freedom we fought and never gave up until it was granted to us. What makes you think the people that are being suppressed will not do the same?
We as a nation have a responsibility to the world. We must protect and nourish the people that come to this great nation. We have to support their beliefs instead of making a mockery of it. If we do not protect and nourish people’s rights to practice their religion peacefully, we are destroying their hopes. And we as a nation know that when all is lost, all that we have and rely on is on hope. We are responsible as a nation to guard hope and we are supposed to act as the protector of religion. I ask America of the future, why can’t we be that better place?
Dear Beloved U.S Citizens,
I am writing this letter to put into words why religious freedom is essential in our society. What is religious freedom? Religious freedom is a law that supports the freedom of an individual or group of people, in a private or public, to manifest or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and ceremony.
It is a positive and necessary part of our ethnical and religiously diverse democracy. The United States of America allows religions such as Christianity, Islam, Catholicism, Judaism, and Hinduism to practice here and we welcome with open arms any other religions that wish to practice on American soil.
There is nothing I want to happen more than to broaden and secure religious freedom in our country. I am confident that a lot of Americans feel the same way, but this cannot happen if everyone is not on the same page. The mosque situation is a perfect example of taking religious freedom away and that is not what this country is built on. That just causes a lot of unwanted problems, which further complicates things. With religious freedom, everyone is happy, and they should be.
Everyone can practice the religion they choose and they are happy. If everyone is happy in our country, that opens the door for so many other great things just waiting to happen. The rewards are endless. With that being said, I am confident in saying that religious freedom is a must.
Hear Prince's letter read, and Facing History's Adam Strom and the State Department's Farah Pandith speak more about this project on New York's Brian Lehrer radio show.