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America’s Founding Fathers and Religious Freedom
America’s Founding Fathers established a nation founded on the concept of religious freedom. More than 200 years later, their views on religious liberty remain nothing less than inspirational. Many of their writings and actions explicitly showed that, though most Americans were Christian, the nation should be open to people of all faiths—including Muslims.
In 1785, George Washington stated a willingness to hire “Mahometans,” and indeed people of any nation or religion, to work on his private estate at Mount Vernon. His criteria included neither religion nor ancestry, but work ethic and skills.
In 1776, John Adams published Thoughts on Government in which he praised Muhammad as a “sober inquirer after truth” alongside Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, and other thinkers. After he became president in 1797, he signed a treaty which stipulated that the United States had no “character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen.”
In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography which he published in 1791, he stated that he was part of a religious community in Pennsylvania that had built a meeting place designed to accommodate preachers of “all religious persuasions” and that “even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.“
The above was an excerpt from Lesson One of ING’s online curriculum A History of Muslims in America, which is available free of charge to educators here.