FFRF removes out-of-context Washington quote that puts down nonbelievers (August 23, 2013)

The Freedom From Religion Foundation successfully petitioned an Oklahoma county to remove a partial quote from President George Washington displayed on the county website.

FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel sent Creek County Clerk Jennifer Mortazavi a June 25 letter outlining why the quote, which endorsed religion and disparaged nonbelievers, should be removed.

The partial quote on the Creek County website that insulted nonbelievers read:

“‘The Hand of providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.’ –George Washington”

Seidel wrote that displaying the quote on the Creek County website shows preference of religious citizens over nonreligious citizens. This is an unconstitutional, distasteful and threatening message for the county government to send.

“Although some of us choose to wear the term ‘infidel’ as a badge of courage, the government cannot label us ‘wicked’ for our lack of religious beliefs,” Seidel wrote.

Washington’s quote, when put in context, is actually a reiteration of his belief that government officials should not force religion into the government.

The full quote reads:

“The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations, but, it will be time enough for me to turn preacher, when my present appointment ceases; and, therefore, I shall add no more on the Doctrine of Providence . . .”

Seidel noted in his letter that Washington rarely attended church, never included the name of Jesus Christ in his several thousand letters, and refused to have a priest or religious rituals at his deathbed.

“This letter shows Washington’s discomfort with and rejection of mixing religion in his official capacity. He was unwilling to discuss it an any length until his ‘present appointment cease[d]’ — his appointment as commander of the Continental Army.”

FFRF received a response from Mortazavi on August 23 that Creek County had removed the offensive quote from their website.

Freedom From Religion Foundation