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12/24/02 - CHRISTMAS - 2002-12-26

Two-thousand years ago, in a world riven by strife, poverty, and hatred, Jesus Christ was born in a stable in Bethlehem. In the mighty Roman empire of that time, few could have imagined the impact this event would have on the world. From the humble manger that served as the baby’s crib came a message of God’s love for mankind and of the eventual triumph of good over evil.

Christ’s message was the intrinsic dignity and brotherhood of all humanity: each person is made in the image of God. This message invested even the lowliest in the Roman empire, the slaves, with inestimable worth.

The idea that no one could rightfully violate the sanctity of the individual spread and eventually led to limitations on the power of the state. Centuries after Christ, the ideal of the inviolability of each person became the cornerstone of modern democracy. This principle found expression in America’s Declaration of Independence, which says, “all men are created equal [and] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

At the time of its founding, the U.S. was mostly Christian -- although Americans followed that faith in a variety of ways. Moreover, Americans made it clear in the Bill of Rights -- the first ten amendments to the Constitution -- that freedom of religion must be respected. In the decades since, people from many religious backgrounds have come to America. Indeed, the U.S. is now one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world. Christians of all denominations, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and others make America their home. And all are free to practice their religion as they choose.

Such freedom has made America strong. But it has also made America hated by the enemies of freedom -- as the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, made all too clear. Since then, the U.S., along with the rest of the civilized world, has been waging a global war on terrorism.

As Americans enjoy the Christmas holiday, said President George W. Bush, “we are also grateful for the men and women of our Armed Forces who are working to defend freedom, secure our homeland, and advance peace and safety around the world.”