Rabbi Soloveichik is a professor at Yeshiva College in New York, known for his writings on the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and society.
He presented the opening address at the National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C., on May 30. The gathering, which drew a diverse group of religious freedom advocates, was sponsored by the Ethics and Public Policy Center's American Religious Freedom Program.
The rabbi explained that "America is the first country in a long time founded around an idea," and that religious freedom "is the philosophical lynchpin of what lies at the heart of American ideals."
This theory is evident throughout American history, he said.
To illustrate his point, Rabbi Soloveichik recounted the story of Jonas Phillips, a Jewish merchant living in the early United States. He explained that shortly after the formation of the country, Jews wishing to serve in the Pennsylvania legislature were required to swear an oath upon a Christian Bible, a blasphemous act for the Jewish people.
Phillips, who had fought in the Revolutionary War alongside other Jews and Christians, found that this requirement was in opposition to the founding principles of the country, Soloveichik explained. The merchant sent a letter to George Washington protesting this practice and affirming that "all religious societies are on an equal footing."