The fourth Thursday in November is celebrated as Thanksgiving in the United States. America was founded, in significant measure, by people fleeing religious persecution. They sought a haven where they could practice their faith without fear of government interference or reprisal.
Today, religious freedom -- the freedom to seek, know, and serve God according to the dictates of one's own conscience -- remains for many Americans the most treasured of human rights. The American impulse to protect and champion this freedom was born out of American history.
In 1619, thirty-eight English settlers arrived at Berkeley, Virginia. President George W. Bush tells the story of that day:
"At the end of their long voyage, the men reviewed their orders from home. And here’s what the orders said: ‘The day of our ships’ arrival shall be yearly and perpetually kept holy as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God.’ Upon hearing those orders, the men fell to their knees in prayer. And with this humble act of faith, the settlers celebrated their first Thanksgiving in the New World."
In 1621, in what is now the state of Massachusetts, European settlers and American Indians came together in thanksgiving for a bountiful harvest. In 1789, George Washington, the first U.S. president, issued a proclamation of thanksgiving for what he called "the peaceful and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness. . . .and the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed."
This liberty did not come without cost. From the Revolutionary War in 1775 to the Civil War in 1861 to two world wars in the twentieth century, many Americans have sacrificed to preserve freedom in the U.S. and around the world. This year is no exception. President Bush said that in the four centuries since thanksgiving prayers were offered at Berkeley, Virginia, “our nation has changed in many ways. . . .yet the source of all our blessings remains the same: we give thanks to the Author of Life who granted our forefathers safe passage to this land, who gives every man, woman, and child on the face of the Earth the gift of freedom, and who watches over our nation every day.”
The preceding was an editorial reflecting American ideals and institutions.