By Rev. Louis P. Sheldon
Chairman, Traditional Values Coalition
The dramatic rescue last week of eight Christian humanitarian aid workers from the Taliban should remind us on Thanksgiving Day of the wonderful gift of religious freedom we possess in this nation. These Christians faced death in Afghanistan for preaching their faith!
The cruel oppression and murder of Christians and other non-Muslims in many Muslim nations should make us grateful to God for the men and women who founded the United States and gave us a Constitution that protects the religious beliefs of all Americans.
As we spend time with our families on Thanksgiving Day, we should pause and remember the courage of those who crafted a Constitution designed to protect Americans from the kind of religious persecution our ancestors experienced in Britain under the Church of England.
In "The Theme Is Freedom: Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition," author M. Stanton Evans points out that the First Amendment to our Constitution-the amendment that assures religious freedom for all Americans-was approved by the House of Representatives on September 24, 1789.
On the very next day, the House passed a resolution calling for a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. The House adopted the following language: "We acknowledge with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially affording them an opportunity peacefully to establish a constitutional government for their safety and happiness."
Our Founding Fathers had obviously not been exposed to the ACLU's tortured misunderstanding of the idea of "separation of church and state." Our Founders understood the importance of religion as the basis of good government-but feared a national church exercising tyrannical powers over the American people.
The House called upon President Washington to issue a proclamation designating a national day of prayer and thanksgiving. In his proclamation, Washington said, "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for His benefits and humbly to implore His protection and favor . . . that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that ever will be, that we may then unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people .
"In keeping with this spirit of Thanksgiving, Congress (encouraged by House leader Tom DeLay [R-TX]) recently passed a resolution calling for a National Day of Reconciliation to be held in the Capitol Rotunda on December 4. The purpose of this gathering is to allow Members of Congress to meet to ask God for His forgiveness, for reconciliation, unity, and charity for all people of the United States-and to ask God to assist our nation in being "a champion of hope, a vindicator of the defenseless, and a guardian of freedom."
As our nation trucks in hundreds of thousands of humanitarian food packets to Afghanistan this month, and as our courageous military wages a relentless war against the Taliban, let us thank God for the gift of freedom-and especially the freedom to worship without fear of being killed under an oppressive "religious" government.
This Thanksgiving, let us remember the words of Thomas Jefferson on the importance of religious freedom: "Among the most inestimable of our blessings is that . . . of liberty to worship our Creator in the way we think most agreeable to His will; a liberty deemed in other countries incompatible with good government and yet proved by our experience to be its best support."
Traditional Values Coalition is an interdenominational public policy organization representing more than 43,000 churches across the United States. TVC's Web site is: www.traditionalvalues.org .