Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates a victory for religious freedom. In the United States, we take religious freedom for granted. We really shouldn’t. When we look around the world, we see that it is more the exception than the rule.
In the United States, our religious freedom goes back to the very beginning of the republic. The Bill of Rights guarantees religious freedom. The First Amendment to the Constitution states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The First Amendment was enacted in 1791 six days before Hanukkah fell that year.
But, even before then, the spirit of religious tolerance was not lacking in the young nation. For example, in 1790, President George Washington wrote a letter to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island. In his letter, Washington wrote:
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.
On behalf of my office, I wish all of our clients, friends, family, and blog readers who are celebrating Hanukkah, the happiest of holidays.