As for that Treaty of Tripoli thing, George Washington probably never even saw it, since it did not arrive in America until months after he left office, and no statements in the treaty can be ascribed to him. In the light of current events, one might want to consider where Tripoli is, the predominance of various Muslim cultures in the area, the prior history of conflict between those Muslim cultures and the state-established religions of Europe, and America's desperate attempts to distance itself from those forms of distinctly European, government-controlled "Christian" religions.
If you'll just consider that type of context (important word there), then you'll pretty quickly realize what that treaty was about and the need for such a statement in establishing peace and security to assure commercial enterprise in that area of the world.Â
What George Washington did actually say was: "No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agencyâ?¦ . We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained." (from Washington's first inaugural address)
My hope for generations to come is that they will have the "inalienable right," "endowed by their Creator," to study such sentiments in freedom without revisionist intolerance. My fear is that this very freedom, guaranteed by the Constitution, is being taken away. My pain is that it is my generation that bears responsibility for allowing our children to be so defrauded of their heritage.
Editor's note: The term "a wall of separation between church and state" comes from Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (Connecticut) in 1802 and has become shorthand for the reason behind the establishment clause of the First Amendment.