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A letter’s journey, from founding father to religious question
The battle over Washington's letter to a Newport, Rhode Island, congregation rages on.
September 30th, 2011
07:08 AM ET

A letter’s journey, from founding father to religious question

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – Standing over the letter, one would never know its unique story. Worth millions at auction, reading it unveils that it stands as a testament to religious freedom in America. But as it stares up, idly sitting there, the stories of “erotic” behavior, twisted ownership and historic encounters are lost on those lucky enough to see it.

The primary spirit of the letter is clear – the United States government will assure religious freedom, giving “to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”

George Washington wrote those words in a 1790 letter to the the congregation of a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island. He was hoping to reassure the congregation that the budding government of the United States would allow free expression to all religions. Since then, Jews in America have flourished.

The letter is addressed “To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island,” but it is kept from public view, which hurts and angers those who think private ownership defies the letter’s original sentiment.

George Washington

“The letter starts off to the Hebrew congregation of Newport, Rhode Island,” said Mordechai Eskovitz, rabbi of the Touro Synagogue in Newport. “It was meant for the congregation. It is addressed to the congregation.”

Eskovitz has been the rabbi of Touro for 16 years. He said the almost unanimous sentiment in his congregation is that the spirit of the letter, which he said was intended for the community and not one person, is being dishonored.

“Jews at that time were going through such turmoil and finally they found a safe haven in the United States,” said Eskovitz. “This letter, and its sentiment, is something too valuable for an individual. It is for everyone.”

Washington signed the letter on the back. His signature gives it monetary value, but his words give the letter even more value, experts say.

For the last nine years, people have been unable to see the letter. It sits in a sterile Maryland office park a few hundred feet from FedEx Field. It is in climate-controlled, protective storage. However, for those who make an appointment, it is presented on a mahogany table, devoid of protective casing.

From a hallway adorned with the storage facility's logo, workers can be seen at their computers, almost oblivious to the document in the small conference room. Though there are gadgets on desks that you wouldn’t see in most offices - a seismograph, for example - an unaware observer could mistake this place for another run of the mill office.

But this office holds documents behind lock and key that libraries and museums would love to display.

How did the letter travel from George Washington’s pen to this suburban Washington office building? The journey's twists and turns highlight a community's resolve to hold on to the letter's sentiment, if not the letter itself.

From Washington to Seixas

Moses Seixas, who was president of Touro Synagogue when Washington visited Newport after the Constitution was ratified, sparked Washington's letter. The oldest synagogue in the United States, Touro was built in 1763.

Mary Thompson, the research historian at Mount Vernon, said when Washington became president, he tried to visit every state. During his visit to Rhode Island, Washington came to Touro and was read a letter from Seixas. After he returned home, the president sent his reply.

The fact that Washington visited Rhode Island was a big deal in its own right. The fact that he visited Touro to this day astounds worshipers in Newport.

“It is a sign of how important the Jews were that they were able to meet the president,” said Jonathan Sarna, professor at Brandeis University and a pre-eminent scholar on Jewish-American history.

According to Sarna, the Jewish community in Newport was slowly dwindling at the time, losing residents to larger cities like New York and Boston. “Because the community was so small, apparently the letter (from Washington) was actually held in the Seixas family after the visit,” Sarna said.

The situation became so grim for Touro that in the early 19th century, the synagogue was forced to close. In an ironic twist, after losing people to bigger cities, Touro sent some of its scrolls and other valuables to its mother synagogue, Shearith Israel Synagogue in New York.

The letter, however, was not sent to Shearith Israel.

“You would have thought they got the letter,” Sarna said. “The letter was many times reprinted, people at the time knew it was a significant letter.”

The closure of Touro leaves a gap in the path of Washington’s letter. Touro reopened in the late 19th century, but the letter did not surface at the synagogue.

It wasn't until the early 20th century, when a squat Jewish philanthropist began publicizing his ownership of the letter, that the trail picked back up.

From Newport to New York

Howard Rubenstein had just opened a small PR office on Court Street in New York when he was invited to meet Morris Morgenstern. Morgenstern was a public person in need of a publicist and he hoped Rubenstein would fill the job.

“I went to his office and he was a diminutive person, probably 5-2 or 5-3, very short and very lively. Tremendous energy,” said Rubenstein.

At their first meeting, Morgenstern brought up a letter he had purchased, a letter signed by George Washington and addressed to the Hebrew congregation of Newport.

Rubenstein doesn't know how Morgenstern came upon the letter, but according to The Jewish Daily Forward and a 1951 New York Amsterdam News article, Morgenstern acquired the letter in 1949. From who and at what price is unknown.

Using the letter, Rubenstein devised a way for Morgenstern to increase his philanthropic giving. The duo turned viewing the letter into an honor given to prominent people who Morgenstern would get to meet. Morgenstern also would give the viewers of the letter $5,000, a large sum of money at the time, for the charity of the person's choice.

The plan worked.

Morgenstern and the letter were able to meet former President Herbert Hoover, former President Harry Truman and then-Sen. John F. Kennedy, as well as former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. “The only thing I asked these people was when you greet Morris, indicate that you have read the letter and you were delighted to see it,” Rubenstein said.

Morris Morgenstern, center, showed a number of notable people his prized letter, including then-Sen. John F. Kennedy. Howard Rubenstein is at right.

According to Rubenstein, Harry Truman even hugged Morgenstern when they met and said, “I have heard all about your letter and am so excited to see it.”

After the duo stopped publicizing the letter, Rubenstein lost touch with Morgenstern. Rubenstein said he looks back on those days fondly.

“It was a very exciting time for Morris and for the country, because the publicity that it generated about a country opposed to bigotry was very important,” said Rubenstein. “I thought I was doing an important thing in those days.”

Morgenstern also believed the letter he owned was important. According to Rubenstein, Morgenstern cherished the letter so much, he would sleep with the framed letter under his bed at night and would take it almost anywhere he went. Rubenstein called the relationship “treasured.”

In 1957, Morgenstern loaned the letter to B’nai B’rith International, according to Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of the organization.

Why Morgenstern made the loan is unknown. He died in 1969.

New York to suburban Maryland

Mariaschin said former B’nai B’rith’s president Phillip Klutznick secured the loan for the organization's museum in Washington. Klutznick was a well-known Jewish leader and Jimmy Carter’s secretary of commerce. Mariaschin says it was that relationship that cemented the loan.

When CNN contacted the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, Paul Goodnough, the foundation's accountant, said he didn't think this “very private family” would like to talk about the letter.

“If they reach out to you, they want to talk. If they don’t, it is a no comment,” Goodnough said.

The Morgenstern Foundation did not contact CNN.

B’nai B’rith displayed the letter from 1957 to 2002 in its Washington museum, Mariaschin said. The organization downsized in 2002, moving to a smaller office on K Street, an office with no street level location for a museum. Though the organization maintains a reservations-only gallery in its current space, the letter’s unique storage needs were too much for an office environment, so B’nai B’rith contracted Artex, the warehouse in suburban Maryland, to store the letter.

“We are in active discussion now with several institutions about partnering in terms of the display of this very nice collection that the Klutznick museum has,” said Mariaschin.

Since the letter went into storage in 2002, a number of prominent libraries and museums have asked to display it for B’nai B’rith and the Morris Morgenstern Foundation.

Among them was the Library of Congress, which asked to display the letter during a 2004 exhibit celebrating the 350th anniversary of Jewish life in America. Jennifer Gavin, director of communications at the Library of Congress, said the letter was requested but not obtained.

“It’s not unusual for institutions like the library to reach out to owners of rare documents for such purposes and find that, for a variety of reasons, the loan can’t be accomplished,” said Gavin.

Sarna helped advise the Library of Congress’ celebration of Jewish life. He said the people he worked with were astonished by the rejection.

“Usually people would die just to be invited to display their property,” Sarna said. “If the Library of Congress wanted something of mine, they would have it the next day with insured mail.”

This part of the letter's history distresses Jane Eisner, editor of the Forward. The unwillingness to display the letter, she says, hides not only a critical piece of Jewish American history, but also of American history in general.

"We have flourished in America and it is largely because we have been allowed to," said Eisner. "That spirit of tolerances and acceptances was expressed so beautifully by Washington in that letter."

But where is the letter's rightful home?

Bernard Bell has become disillusioned with Touro Synagogue over the years. Twenty-five years ago, he began a scholarship program at Brown University in honor of the synagogue. Before that, he was a member.

Bell is outspoken, and without much prodding he will bluntly tell anyone who listens that he believes the Morris Morgenstern Foundation does not rightfully own the letter.

“The possession of the letter was in the hands of the congregation and I don’t believe at the time that it was sold that anyone had the right to sell it,” Bell said.

Bell said the majority of Newport Jews, especially those who have been around for quite awhile, agree with him. He said the problem is, “There is nobody in the congregation that I am aware of that has the guts to go after that letter.”

To Bell, the power of the letter is not just its historical significance, but also its monetary value.“It is the most valuable piece of work outside of the synagogue that we have. No one had the right to sell it and it shouldn't sit in the warehouse,” Bell said.

The letter has not been valued lately, but Dana Linett, a colonial documents expert, said the letter could be worth millions.

“I would think that the Touro is a million-dollar or better, it might bring multiple millions, depending on the condition and how it reads,” Linett said.

Linett said he has seen documents like the Washington letter have what he called a “runaway sale.” When a group so identifies with the document, the sale at auction could defy actual valuation, he said. The symbolic power of the letter could mean more than money. In cases like this, Linett said he has seen documents once valued at $1.5 million shoot up to $8 million in a matter of minutes at auction.

“It is a national treasure. That is what this letter is in its truest sense,” Linett said.

Linett is not alone in valuing the letter's sentiment. John L. Loeb Jr. has put his money behind that opinion.

Loeb spent about $12 million to found the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom, which opened in 2009. Since first reading the letter, Loeb said, “I have been deeply interested that everyone gets to know it. It is one of the great letters about religious freedom that has ever been written and perhaps the earliest by a head of state.” The institute, near Touro in Newport, serves that purpose by displaying a copy of the letter.

Newport is home to the Touro Synagogue, the Loeb Touro Visitors Center and the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom.

Loeb speaks excitedly about the letter’s sentiment. However, Loeb, a former ambassador to Denmark who has committed most of his philanthropic life to the letter, seems reflective when he talks about displaying only a reproduction.

Loeb said though he would like to house the original letter, it is the sentiment that is more important. It is the sentiment, not the physical letter, that moved him to build the institute.

“To me, the uniqueness of America is the acceptance of everybody,” Loeb said. “That is what made America possible. And this letter symbolizes what America is all about.”

Read George Washington's letter.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Church and state • Judaism

soundoff (594 Responses)
  1. Michael

    Hitler killed Jews because of their race, not because of their religion. In fact Hitler also killed Jewish Christians, their religion was no protection.

    December 30, 2011 at 9:57 am |
  2. Tschrny Wolf

    Dogmas, political, religious or any type are fantasies that do not exist, but provide support to the feared, guilty or scared. Unfortunately primitive humans found natural phenomenas like lightening and devastating ones like hurricanes and earthquakes overwhelming so they invented dogmas to cope.

    December 30, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  3. madjoe

    Don't you all have better things to do than ARGUE of stuff that happened 60 years ago. That's what's wrong with us today. We just have to argue stuff ALL THE TIME. enough already.

    December 20, 2011 at 7:56 am |
    • Eric

      Good argument madjoe!

      December 27, 2011 at 8:43 am |
  4. nisly

    So, If a Muslim commits a crime, its because of the evil of Islam, But if a Christian commits a crime (Like Adolph Hitler), then Christianity is innocent and he is not really a christian?

    December 20, 2011 at 5:58 am |
    • Passay Composay

      Hitler himself wasn't Christian in that he didn't really believe in it. He felt Christianity was useful to co-opt for his own purposes, but Christianity wasn't his motive.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Richard

      "Hitler himself wasn't Christian in that he didn't really believe in it."

      Why did he keep saying that he believed in God, had faith in God, and was convinced that he was doing God's work.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
    • Scott

      "Why did he keep saying that he believed in God, had faith in God, and was convinced that he was doing God's work."

      He said he believed in God not Jesus, yes yes there are billions of other people in the world that don't believe Jesus is God. Read something besides the Bible, get a different perspective.

      December 21, 2011 at 8:58 am |
    • xenophilius

      I understand your feelings on this; personally, I can't identify with those who take the rare examples of terrorism committed in the name of the Muslim God and generalize it to the entire Muslim populace. Muslim terrorists are a rare breed who are mentally deranged and take the Koran's command to convert everybody to Islam to mean "if they're not Islam, start a war and blow up their buildings and kill their citizens", which is not what the Koran commands. 99.99% of those who practice Islam are perfectly ordinary people who do not have the thought of "kill non-Muslims" bouncing around in their heads.

      I'm a Christian, myself, but I feel the exact same way–it is wrong to take these rare examples of terrorism and spread it out over the whole Muslim community like an ounce of butter over an acre-sized slice of toast. Usually, it's the non-religious people who do that–they point out these events, few and far between as they are, and say "You see? Religion is evil–anybody who practices religion, therefore, is dangerous, deranged, and ought to be locked up in prison." That is utterly wrong.

      December 22, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • unlearned11

      Many people confuse hitler with being a Christian when clearly he is not,any Christian displaying hate is not a Christian he/she honors GOD with his lips but their acitons are hateful.

      People really need to discern truth form lies, another was the Christian crusades.

      Know the true Christian are those who daily for reaching out got fed to lions and are still being persecuted for their beliefs.

      It is not a Christians job to save thats GOD's job and it is not a Christians job to to remind anyone that they are not saved.

      It is the Christians job to live a blessed life under GOD and our savior.

      Hitlers fruits were destructive evil, when people are unlearned and do not take the time to look for truth in a pile of mess then they to fall under the ignorance.

      Christians are not called to kill or hurt anyone and if they do than are not Christians.

      I do not follow mans religion but what I feel is the holy presence of GOD in me directing me leading to live to love and to sacrifice so that others may see the truth about my belief in my actions.

      Once again hitler was just plain crazy, anyone that hurts another life is not doing GOD's will but his own.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:20 am |
    • unlearned11

      Sorry fixing grammar and spellig!!!!!!

      Many people confuse hitler with being a Christian, when clearly he is not! any Christian displaying hate is not a Christian he/she honors GOD with his lips but their acitons are hateful and destructive!

      People really need to discern truth from lies!

      Know that the true Christian are those who are killed daily for reaching out as well as got fed to lions and are still being persecuted for their beliefs.

      It is not a Christians job to save, that belongs to GOD and it is not a Christians job to to remind anyone that they are not saved.

      But reach those with the Gospels in the hopes that they may find salvation as described in the BOOK!!!

      It is the Christians job to live a blessed life under GOD and our savior so that other nay want that very peace and assurance of their own salvation.

      Hitlers fruits were destructive evil, when people are unlearned and do not take the time to look for truth in a pile of mess then they to fall under the ignorance.

      Christians are not called to kill or hurt anyone and if they do then they are not Christians.

      I do not follow mans religion, I follow what I feel is the holy presence of GOD in me directing me leading to live a life of love and to sacrifice so that others may see the truth about my belief in my actions not my words.

      True actions speak louder than words so if Hitlers action was to murder than he could not be a christian because Yeshua Messiah condemns it.

      Once again hitler was just plain crazy, anyone that hurts another life is not doing GOD's will but his own and any Christians still following any teaching of hate should really go and pray about his own salvation and relationship with Christ.

      Because we are not called to hate but to be a light in a dark place.

      December 25, 2011 at 10:31 am |
    • nsweeney

      You probably need to back off from judging people. There are a lot of great Muslims out there. They really aren't that different than us. But they truly do have some bad people among them. Those who kill others to make a point are wrong and are bad people. But that is all they are. You cannot make generalizations about people as a group or culture and hope to be accurate. In every culture there are good and bad people. They may be from a country that has a history of terrorist activities, but that does not mean that everyone is like that. They may be from a country that has a history of being Christian or Muslim, but that does not mean everyone is like that. Religion is for each individual and is from within to form a relationship with God. Hitler had an agenda that was his own and had nothing to do with Christianity. He was simply evil.

      December 25, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Sheikh Qumruzzaman

      I also look for answer to this question.
      What about Bush.....isn't he a Christian. Didn't Iraq invasion killed far more people than September 2001?
      Was this war justified?

      December 25, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Jayan Rajan

      The difference, maybe lies in the fact that Hitler didn't proclaim 'God is great' each time he killed someone?

      December 25, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • Steve

      No way was Hitler a Christian. He hated Jehovah God's people (the Jews) and did everything to destroy them. He was involved in the occult. If anything, Hilter was demon possed and perhaps even lucifers attempt to dominate the world to bring in the final battle. I know thiss sounds off the wall, but there are battles going on all around us that we do not see, but many times experience the effects of those battles.

      December 28, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • d2s

      hitler hated jews because they killed jesus.. jews commits the biggest crime in christian's history by killing christian's god (their god can be killed)..

      December 29, 2011 at 9:53 am |
    • AB

      What does your comment have to do with the article at hand, i.e. who rightfully owns the letter?

      December 29, 2011 at 11:22 pm |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      Disgracefully, christian dogmatics fancy they are victims, even though they victimize other nations.Religious dogma is ruining mankind 🙁

      December 30, 2011 at 12:32 am |
    • Michael

      You need to read some about Hitler and his inner circle. Hitler was not a Christian. Although born into a Catholic Austrian family Hitler as an adult was into the Occult and dreamed of re-establishing worship of the old Teutonic Gods. Albert Spear even quotes him talking at length about how much better off an Islamic Germany would have been if the Muslims had won the battle of Tours instead of being defeated and pushed out of Europe.
      There is nothing in the Christian New Testament that would justify anything Hitler did, it contains no instructions on how to punish non-Christians, unlike the Koran which spells out specifically how to deal with Infidels.

      December 30, 2011 at 9:49 am |
  5. Larry

    Physics and God? Try http://www.PhysicsOfReality.com

    December 19, 2011 at 7:06 pm |
  6. One With Israel - Your God My God

    America Has A Zeal
    For Our Father’s House
    By Sheila Stephens

    It’s time to Clean Our House

    America is a Christian Nation. Israel’s God is our God. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Both America and Israel are loving people. We are His People, and we live in the House of the Lord. God Blesses Israel and America. I pray that God will continue to protect our lands, for we are blessed.

    Get Ready, Be Ready, and Stay Ready!
    Jesus and His Kingdom of Heaven is coming to this earth soon. Jesus is our Saving Grace, an Amazing Grace!

    “…And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My Name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; they will pick up snakes; If they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.” Mark 16:15

    We demolish arguments and every pretension (self-importance, posing, and imagination) that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
    2 Corinthians 10:5

    In the Name of JESUS, the greatest Name on earth and in heaven….We are taking our families back, our schools back, our cities back, and our government back. And if you don’t like it; then REPENT into God’s Sweet Love, and change your mind and heart to love Him.

    December 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Brian

      America is not a Christian nation. It's a secular nation, and consider yourself lucky for that.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:58 am |
    • xenophilius

      Actually, Brian, it was founded under Christian principles, and the majority of people living in America practice some form of Biblical Christianity. A friend pointed this out to me (she isn't biased; she is agnostic): The reason why it seems like atheists are a majority in the US is because they are so much LOUDER than the other faiths. Atheists' mouths are several times larger than the average religious individual, and thereby it seems that atheists are at least at par with the population of any other religion... which is, of course, false.

      December 22, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      To a great extent, it's those loud-mouthed atheists who are ensuring that your 1st Amendment is followed – the one that guarantees your rights to say, believe and practice whatever you like.

      December 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • Lulz

      Actually, America was founded as a secular nation, NOT a Christian nation.

      Many of the founding fathers were NOT Christians.

      Many were deists and believed in a God. Just not your version. As such, you can stick your letter up your you know what. 🙂

      Merry Xmas!

      December 24, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • james Burrill

      You are forgetting some important history... The Founding Fathers had their parents and grandparents live through ( or not, as the case may be) a bloody civil war over the minor differances between Protestantism and Catholicism. The horror and rejection of that violence set up the FF to do their best to see that our new nation NEVER go that route. So even allowing a divine creator, they established the princples that the Government would never "pick one" to rule over any others. As an aside, I was visiting Washington recently with out of town family. I noticed loads of examples where the old Pagan Gods were displayed all through the public buildings. I saw Justice, I saw Liberty, I saw Athena and Posidon, I didn't see Jesus' statue.. If we are indeed a "Christian nation to the demeaning of any other religion (or lack of one) don't you think Ben Franklin or George Washington would have managed to prevent all those Pagon dieties prohibited and instead only Crosses and Jesus in all their art and writing?

      December 25, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Lucid Catatonia

      Unfortunately, whatever "logic" for meaning anyone draws from this life is manmade. To assume that anyone has THE answer to anything scientifically or religiously is sadly mistaken...faith in and of itself is exceptionally dangerous. Faith can be derived from scientific research, an example of someone else's sacrifice or even fear and manipulation.

      Unfortunately, fear and manipulation are the primary tools of those who want to "impose" faith. They use grandiose and exaggerated examples of "faith" or "miracles" to back their thinly built logics as tools of control over whomever will listen.

      The good ole' USA is a not a Christian country, it's a country that was founded on the notion that anyone could choose their own spiritual delusion and have the freedom to express it. The notion that we are a "Christian" nation is just another lie you've been told. See the world through YOUR eyes and investigate, quit buying into the oversimplified crap that the right wingers pump out everyday on CBN.

      December 27, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • Steve

      America is not a Christian nation. It was founded on Judeo Chrsitian principles, but that does not make it a Christian nation. Christ did not die to save political structures, He died and rose again to save people. when Adam and Eve sinned in the the garden of eden, they surrendered their dominion over earth to lucifer. That is why Christ Followers are referred to as Stangers and Aliens on this earth. In other words, we are exiles, waiting for the everlasting kingdom of God to be established in the new heavens and on the new earth – and that kingdom is not America. Do not get me wrong, I love America and the freedom that is assures us (at least for the time being) to be able to worship Jehovah and follow Christ, but it is not what many Christians think it is. True we need to be involved in the political process, and even in the defense of our Country, but our primary effort is to be obediant to Christ as we live out our faith in public, and take on the causes we are lead to take on. This is what will change America. But again, our primary efforts are to live as Christ leads us.

      December 28, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • d2s

      is there any word "judaisme" in any judaisme scripture?

      December 29, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Tschrny Wolf

      You sound beyond help.

      December 30, 2011 at 12:34 am |
  7. Common Sense

    If he only knew that the "money chargers" would enslave future generations through lies,blackmail,economic subversion and media control

    December 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
    • George

      What a selfish Jew....

      December 17, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
    • Louise Cypher

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eG4pI5ek4Q8

      December 22, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  8. jarry

    i love what people said here ,I am a 28-years lady ,beautiful and mature . Now I am seeking a good man who can give me real love , my friends told me a nice place ...
    -–

    ..Millionaire'Social...℃0M--it's the most effective site in the world to connect with, date and marry successful, beautiful people.-Meanwhile, . It's worthy a try. You do not have to be rich or famous.–

    December 15, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
    • larry

      :'(

      December 20, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  9. cal usa

    For the benefit of those who assume all mass murdererers in history were atheists, I have three words Adolph Hitler, Christian....

    December 12, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Incorrect

      Hitler was NOT Christian. Period. Go dive back into a history book and educate yourself.

      December 12, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Reply to "Incorrect"

      "As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice." -Adolf Hitler From "The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, April 1922 – August 1939," published in 1942 by Oxford University Press.

      December 14, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Z

      reply to cal usa – anyone can proclaim Christianity, but one needs to live like one. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." Matthew 16:24 So, dont use any Christian you may know, and not live like one. Why dont you read about Jesus, and judge for yourself. I hope you find peace my friend.

      December 14, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • CBW

      Hitler rejected Christianity.
      first edition, 1953, contains definitive proof of Hitler's real views,Hitler's Table Talk 1941-1944, which was used for the Oxford university Press

      December 14, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • mysteryofiniquity

      Just because someone calls themselves a Christian does not mean they are one. I could call myself the flying spaghetti monster, but that does not mean I am. Get a grip people. Adolph Hitler.....a Christian?.......Come on.

      December 14, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • jimbo

      Religion is responsible for more human misery than any other man-made fabrication.

      December 15, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
    • Common Sense

      And I'm sure the Muslim conquest and conversion of half the world was peaceful and without blood shed...idiot

      December 17, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Brian

      Yes Hitler was positive Christian. He was by almost all accounts considered "spiritual" and observant, but not of organized religion, which he seemed to abhor. He was most certainly not atheist. In any case, the evil things he did had nothing to do with Christianity or Atheism, no more than what Stalin did had to do with Atheism. Hitler was just an evil, hateful, racist maniac.

      December 20, 2011 at 7:57 am |
    • Daniel

      A Christian who believed in the occult? Makes sense.

      December 22, 2011 at 9:48 am |
    • Buy a clue

      Hitler was not Christian. This is a gross misconception repeated by those who do not take the time to read history but take the time to read blogs. Stop repeating the same garbage some other clueless person thinks.

      December 25, 2011 at 2:13 am |
    • Sheikh Qumruzzaman

      I think you will at least agree George Bush is Christian. He's as good as Hitler 😛
      Killing thousands of innocent people in Iraq...with a war that was not justified.

      December 25, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
    • Chuck

      Hey sports fans, calling yourself a Christian doesn't make you one. Hitler was no more a Christian than Islamic terrorists are Muslims. If you don't understand that you should jump to another website and do some research.

      December 30, 2011 at 7:43 am |
    • Mike S.

      If Hitler was a Christian then he was the kind of Christian any atheist could love; the kind that keeps it a complete secret.

      December 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  10. bdl

    wait i'm confused I thought in order to be a good person I have to be religious. Because there is a connection between morals and religion? oh wait nevermind i was thinking of common sense. If i'm not religious how would i ever know not to go kill people? Thank you god for showing me how to live a wholesome life.

    December 11, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Mephitis

      Morality is not religiously exclusive. What are you 4?

      December 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Z

      to bdl – Religion is man made, no one said you cant be morally good without religion, but no one can live life without sinning. Since we are born with sin. When is the last time you thought of nasty/mischievous thoughts of others? Are you happy? Please do not think of the Bible as a big religious book, it is a book fill with rich historical info. Giving you a good understanding of today's problems. Find out who Jesus is, and I guarantee you, that you will find your answer. No need to listen to others, and plz do not give your opinion if you never investigated and compared all the resources available to you.

      December 14, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • HGMCG

      this reply is to z who questioned whether BDL has admonished Z for offering her opinion without having "never investigated and compared all the resources available to her" has done so herself. Has she examined other religious belief systems and their holy texts or is she/he simply assuming the Bible as the one and only true word of God.

      December 17, 2011 at 1:06 am |
    • Kirk

      Z-LOL! The Bible is fiction!

      December 25, 2011 at 12:19 am |
  11. Ray Moon

    But the Founding Fathers continually sponsored religious messages, continually giving atheists the impression that they were less valuable than religious people. The very same Congress that passed the First Amendment passed the Northwest Ordinance, which required

    Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

    This is a clear endorsement of the value of religion in our society, beginning in schools.

    December 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • pattyo27

      In reference to American Indians: "The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them." You guys just pick and choose what you want to adhere to. Standard.

      December 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Yeah

      "Religion, morality, and knowledge...shall forever be encourged" – that's no stronger than saying, we will ask people to act well. Notice that morality and religion are listed separately. It also mentions knowledge, so this is not a ringing endorsement of religion.

      December 13, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Z

      2 Yeah – you can have all the knowledge you can pursue, but wisdom is from God. I challenge you to read the Bible not as a religious book but a book filled with history. NIV and NKJV gives you a translation interpretation... and a good understanding. And then decide if life as you see it, is all there? Or is there more to life? Hope you find your answer? Peace my friend

      December 14, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • Brian

      Ray Moon: Yes they said religion was a value to society. They were most of them believers. This is why they made the nation secular, so that religion could be freely expressed, and no single religion could oppress the others. Christians tend to conflate secular with anti-Christian, and that's just ignorant. They just have to get over the fact that they aren't the only game in town. Secular government is what allows religions to flourish.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:03 am |
  12. Nash

    Facts aside, It is funny that people who claim that the founding fathers founded this nation on "Christian Principles" cannot explain why those "Christians = people who are supposed to act Christ-like" were complacent with the notion that they could enslave fellow human beings. In their tortured logic, maybe Black people, and other minorities are not God's people.

    December 11, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • truth squad

      There's not enough room on this blog to explain to you how foolish your comment is..

      December 11, 2011 at 12:58 pm |
    • Mephitis

      Stop crying..

      December 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Enlightened

      Nash is spot on–the founders were not saints, many were not practicing Christians, and most of them owned slaves. Americans are so caught up in their "slavish" patriotism that they cannot see the reality of their own history. This country was founded on a tobacco economy and run by a tiny upper-class that wanted to RESTRICT who could vote and participate in the political system.

      December 12, 2011 at 10:12 am |
    • Denise

      I think that the main reason conservative Christians want the country to be founded on Christian principles is so they can look back and say, "Look what activist judges have done to our country. They've taken God and prayer out of our schools." What they fail to realize is that the court decisions were more about allowing for individual freedoms than eliminating God. You can't have the freedom to worship as you choose if you fail to let your neighbor worship as he chooses. What if that religious prayer being said in class did not represent your religion? Once the state allows for one religion it makes all other religions secondary. The courts actually protected everyone's right to freedom of religion as guaranteed in the First Amendment.

      December 14, 2011 at 12:48 pm |
  13. Daniel

    Freedom of religion is a essential part of our lives. Freedom from and freedom to it is all the same.

    December 11, 2011 at 3:14 am |
    • Mephitis

      Stupid is as stupid does...

      December 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Brian

      Mephitis are you calling Daniel's comment stupid? Daniel's comment is absolutely correct.

      December 20, 2011 at 8:05 am |
  14. Santa Fean

    Freedom from religion....that is what this country was founded on. Look at European history to see what we were fleeing from.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • Gavilan Salvaje

      The idea was not "Freedom FROM Religion" but "Freedom OF Religion". "Freedom FROM Religion" is the battlecry of Evangelical Atheists, who choose to misinterpret History.

      People came here to be free to worship, or not worship, without worrying about anyone attacking them for their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.

      Evangelical Atheists are just as bad as Evangelical theists when they try to push their ideas on other people.

      Shame on those who would want to ifringe upon the rights of others to worship, or not worship, as they please!

      December 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  15. LibsSuck

    to the Athiests that are not athiest but obviously only Anti-Christian Jew, well Mao, Stalin, Lennin, Castro, Che Guevera an most of the top mass murderers in history were athiests, some like to say Hitler but Hitler long before his rise gave up on his faith never attending mass or church in fact trying to create his own religion of himself............so religion had ZERO to do with it..............man's own evil much like yours for attacking Christians did though...........Washington would have been appauled at the influence and evil of athiesm world wide and in our country to deny Christians mainly and other faiths their freedom of peaceful worship.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • northern light

      "“To me, the uniqueness of America is the acceptance of everybody,” Loeb said.”

      Only if you happen to hold the same religious views as the Tea Party.
      If you happen to be a person of reason and logic....hence a non believer....you are not accepted.

      "Obviously you are an athiest in the mould (or was that mold?) of Mao, Stalin, Lennin, Castro"
      Why was America's mark Twain left off your list?

      You sound pretty cross for a believer in the Prince of Peace.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:43 pm |
    • tepeters

      What about the Crusades where Christians form Western Europe also pillaged christians in Eastern Europe as well as attack Muslims? What about the Inquistion, the Thirty Years War, witch hunting? Then there is the Conquest in which Native Americans were tortured into conversion, their cultiures destroyed. our own march to the West where Native Americans were given small pox contaminated blankets, massacred, and cheated. And of course the fanaticism caused by Islamists, Christianist, and all religionists of today. So religion is right up there as one of the causes of bigotry, hatred, war. and man's inhumanity to man. The reason for this is that ALL religions have at the core of their beliefs the idea that they are somehow chosen by a god and hoilders of truth and therefore better than anyone else who does not believe what they believe. It is endemic to the religious dogma they espouse regardless of the individual acts of charity that individuals do in the name of their faith. Communism, Fascisim are similar insofar as they share that dogmatic view that they alone and their vision of the world is right. It is all dogmatic, religious thinking and therefore the cause of much evil in the world.

      December 7, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • Philenium

      I think comparing how many atheists and how many Christians have murdered people does nothing but prove the fact that there are murderous and demented people on both sides of the coin. You are trying to justify that because there are murderers on the other side of the coin that your side of the coin is the correct position to have. There are love filled atheists and hate filled theists. There are also hate filled atheists and love filled Christians. It is not the label of belief that makes a person "evil" but what they do in the name of that label.

      I think tepeters is right however in noting that all of the atheists you noted were following a political, cultural, or ethnic dogma. Maoism and Stalinism were political dogmas. The holocaust was an ethnocentric fueled dogma. I think this is the key distinction here. For the most part atheists don't murder in the name of atheism. It doesn't really make logical sense. What is the motivating force? Killing in the name of nothing? No, those people were following a different dogma. It wasn't the atheism that was their reasoning for killing, it was their country, their ethnicity. Those things become their dogma. On the flip side, the religious murderers almost always murder in the name of their deity. They are murdering solely because of their religion. That is the distinction.

      It is just irrational to say that because those people were atheists they were murdering in the name of atheism. There is no motive to kill for atheism. Atheism is an absence of belief. It's not that they aren't choosing to recognize something, they are recognizing that there is nothing to choose. Motive cannot be created in an absence of belief.

      December 10, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
    • Philenium

      It should be noted that I don't think that religion "causes" people to murder. Almost all religions were created to teach love and to help understand the world around us and give purpose to mankind. Christians that murder aren't murdering because they are Christian, they are simply using the religion as a reason to murder. That is the distinction. If an atheist were to murder in the name of atheism they would not longer be atheist, because they have created some belief system and deity to follow when their belief dictates that there should be none.

      December 10, 2011 at 10:49 pm |
    • ladybear

      this idea that only Christians have any sense of morality is getting very old, very fast. We are not Christians. Christ may or may not have existed, there is no historical record of his existence anywhere. However, we follow more of what you would consider 'Christian' teachings, we don't smoke, don't drink, don't break the law. We contribute more o charitable causes than most who go to church, even though we live under the poverty line. We help others, speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves. As do most of the people we know, and virtually none of them would call themselves Christian either., Many are Deists. We follow no religion, attend no church. Both religion and churches are man made, the Creator is found every where in every thing, and he is much closer in places that He has created, Who is the Creator? Who knows, perhaps he/she is that vast energy field that is the universe, or universes, as energy is the one thing that cannot be destroyed, It may change form and substance, but always exists. Energy is a scientific fact, and nothing can exist without it.

      December 11, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • truth squad

      The Crusades, while certainly no great example of Christianity, were a response to the barbarism of Mohammed who tired to exterminate Chrsitians and Jews and killed any and all of them he and his muslim army could.

      December 11, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
    • truth squad

      Ldaybear is what some would call a "denier" and many would call delusional.

      Hilarious, there is no historical record of Jesus. Sad that someone could be so clueless.

      December 11, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • UncleM

      Hey truth squad – the bible isn't historical evidence.

      December 11, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Mephitis

      You seem to be quite knowledgeable about earthling ideas for a martian.

      December 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • tim

      Non religious people do good things and do horrible things. Religious people do good things and horrible things. The difference is non religious people don't do horrible things in the name of their god, they do it because they are just horrible to begin with. It's a stupid argument to say that Hitler, Stalin and Mao did horrible things because they didn't believe in God (Hitler did, by the way). They did it because they were dictators. The Catholic church has done so much horror in their day in power in the name of their god. The bottom line is being an atheist doesn't make someone evil. Being a ruthless dictator does; religious or not.

      December 14, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • hocabsurdumst

      This is a response to ladybear.

      1. Jesus is mentioned pretty clearly by the Roman historian Tacitus in his Annals 15.44, probably written ca. 115 (most likely). While this is not contemporaneous with the "life of Jesus" it's pretty darn close and it's written by a non-believer with access to official records, so it's quite credible.

      2. The "energy cannot be created or destroyed, so our consciousness must last after death" fallacy is just kind of sad really. What you would refer to as your consciousness, I'd call electro-chemical reactions. After you kick the bucket, your brain begins deteriorating instantly with the more complicated electro-chemcial reactions being replaced by the simpler chemical reactions that accompany your noodle's accelerating rot. That, my friend, is how conservation of energy works.

      The people of this board deserve a better class of atheist and I'm here to give it to them!

      December 14, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  16. Cascadoux

    And we have those who like to speak on behalf of the founding fathers, when they willingly demonstrate their bigotry against others religions, especially Islam. We even have candidates for the highest public office, and current public officials, who espouse their religious intolerance, cloaked in the American flag. I hope they take notice of how UN-American they are behaving.

    December 6, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • Yacov

      I couldn't agree with you more. Well said.

      December 14, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  17. WorshipSnowyWhite

    @Chad
    "I'm a born again Christian, and I shudder to think what people have done in the name of Christianity."

    Yep. WE ALL DO. Just like we all shudder to think that there are still Christians.....Shudder to think there is still religion PERIOD.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:57 am |
    • LibsSuck

      Obviously you are an athiest in the mould (or was that mold?) of Mao, Stalin, Lennin, Castro, Che Guevera an most of the top mass murderers in history............so religion had ZERO to do with it..............man's own evil much like yours for attacking Christians did though...........Washington would have been appauled at the influence and evil of athiesm world wide and in our country to deny Christians mainly and other faiths their freedom of peaceful worship.

      December 6, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
    • northern light

      Amen to that brother.....pun intended... ;o).

      December 6, 2011 at 9:48 pm |
    • Mephitis

      We shall have to invent a new category level of imbecile for LibsSuck and northern light.

      December 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  18. jamesnyc

    This letter should be at the Library of Congress. It is a National Treasure.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:31 am |
    • ....

      Sounds like a new Nicholas Cage movie!!!!

      December 10, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Mephitis

      "National Treasure" agreed.

      December 11, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  19. HPNIII

    It would have been nice to read the letter don't you think.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:37 am |
    • fyfe

      there's a link at the bottom of the article.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  20. fedup99

    I'm an Antagonist, I think your all screwy.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Gavilan Salvaje

      We are, all of us, "screwy"!

      December 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.