The United States was always a fundamentally Christian nation, and its early settlers were Christians looking to escape persecution and make a better life for themselves. All signers of the Declarations of Independence as well the Constitution were Christians of one sort or another, but their drive to escape religious discrimination, as well as their differences among themselves (the delegates to the constitutional convention included Protestants, Catholics, Presbyterians, Methods, Congregationalists and Lutherans; many of the delegates identified with more than one of the movements), may have contributed to a White House open to other faiths.
On this day, June 29, President Richard Nixon took the unprecedented step of holding the first Jewish religious services on the grounds of the White House. It was a symbolic display of religious unity on which the nation was founded.
That unity might have existed from the country’s earliest days, when, according to some sources, General George Washington befriended a Jewish soldier at Valley Forge. Washington noticed the soldier sat apart from others, lighting two candles — for Hanukkah, the soldier explained, the Jewish celebration marking the victory of a rag-tag group of soldiers over a much stronger oppressive force.