Before the First Amendment guaranteed freedom of religion in the U.S., President George Washington was an early advocate for religious minorities. In his 1790 Letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island Washington assured the community that the new nation would not tolerate religious bigotry and pledged safety to religious minorities. Historians say Washington’s letter was a clarion call that paved the way for the First Amendment in 1791.
President Washington’s legacy as a champion of religious freedom and the inclusion of all faiths will be sustained through the establishment of the Loeb Institute at GW. The institute, formerly called the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, is now housed at GW through the philanthropy of Ambassador John L. Loeb, Jr. and the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.
The Loeb Institute will foster dialogue on religious understanding and the separation of church and state, and serve as a center for academic collaboration in religion, peace studies, history, political science and other programs for scholars, students, educators and the public.
Since 2009, the New York City-based George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, which Ambassador Loeb founded, has offered educational programs based in New York and Newport, Rhode Island, and has partnered with civic organizations to reach tens of thousands of students. Those educational programs will now take place at GW.