The fourth Thursday in November is celebrated as Thanksgiving in the United States. America was founded, in significant measure, by persons fleeing religious persecution and seeking a haven where they could live out their faith without fear of government interference or reprisal.
Today, religious freedom remains for many Americans the most treasured of human rights, because it represents the very freedom to seek, know, and serve God according to the dictates of one's own conscience. The U.S. impulse to protect and champion this freedom is born in history. The U.S. is resolved to promote all fundamental rights and to uphold international convenants that protect them. This resolve is enriched by the priority which many Americans continue to place on religious faith in their own lives. President George W. Bush:
"We are a nation founded by men and women who deeply felt their dependence on God and always gave Him thanks and praise.... We have much to be thankful for: our families, our friends, our beautiful country, and the freedom granted to each one of us by the Almighty."
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, the Civil War in 1861, and 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. "During this holiday season," says Mr. Bush, "we think especially of our men and women of the armed forces, many of whom are spending Thanksgiving far from home":
"Last Thanksgiving, I had the privilege of meeting with our military serving in the Baghdad area of Iraq. Those men and women, like all who wear our nation's uniform, have volunteered to serve.... And we give them our thanks every day of the year."
In the words of President Bush, "In want or in plenty, in times of challenge or times of calm, we always have reasons to be thankful."