Is Thanksgiving a religious holiday? Have our nation’s values changed? You decide.

In November of 1623, Gov. William Bradford of the 1620 Pilgrim Colony in Plymouth, Mass., proclaimed “render Thanksgiving to the Almighty God for all his blessings.” Thus began our initial Thanksgiving celebration.

The Congress of the United States, on Nov. 1, 1777, declared the first official Thanksgiving holiday. Thursday, Dec. 18, was designated. Quoting excerpts from that proclamation: “It is for solemn Thanksgiving and praise — that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts, and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor; and that together with their sincere acknowledgements and offerings, they may join the penitent confession of their manifold sins, whereby they had forfeited every favor, and their humble and earnest supplication that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance; that it may please Him graciously to afford his blessings on the governments of these states-and the public council of the whole … to take schools and seminaries of education, so necessary for cultivating the principles of true liberty, virtue and piety under his nurturing hand, and to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consisteth of ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.'”

After all these years, the original message still rings true, as a divided nation seeks answers in all the wrong places. Unfortunately, what has changed is our attitude toward freedom of religion. In today’s increasingly secular world, pressure mounts to eradicate all semblance of God or religion from our nations’ institutions of education and in our public places.

On Jan. 1, 1795, our first president, George Washington, wrote in a now-famous National Thanksgiving Proclamation ” … it is our duty as a people, with devout reverence and affectionate gratitude, to acknowledge our many and great obligations to Almighty God, and to implore Him to continue and confirm the blessings we experienced.”

Later, in October of 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, with an Act of Congress, enacted the National Day of Thanksgiving on the final Thursday in November, which we continue to celebrate. President Lincoln said, “It is announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord … But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, by the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own … “

Isn’t it sad that today, after all these years, Lincoln’s admonition concerning our attitude towards God has only been exacerbated. Too many now believe that our creator has become irrelevant.

After quoting the founder of Plymouth Colony, and Washington and Lincoln, two of our greatest leaders from history, perhaps it is timely to consider the question — did our Founding Fathers want so-called separation of church and state? It certainly doesn’t sound that way. Contrary to what you may have been told or believe, separation of church and state is not in the U.S. Constitution. Two key clauses comprise the Religious clause of the First Amendment. The Establishment Clause: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,” and The Free Exercise Clause: ” … or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

So, friends and neighbors, feel free to worship your God, and to give him thanks for all that you have received and currently enjoy. And, if your schools or other organizations attempt to deny your children the practice of their religion, or if they try to teach them to deny the existence of God, don’t let them get away with it. It happens too often in a country where more than 3 in 4 Americans of all religions still believe in God.

It was comforting that President Obama quoted extensively from the scriptures in his “immigration emancipation” address the other night.

Thanksgiving is a combination of two words. Thanks and giving. I know of nothing more comforting to the needy in this world than the act of sharing with them the peace, help and salvation to be gained by discovering our Lord and Saviour. We have many reasons for giving thanks today. Thanksgiving is a day for family and friends as we count our creators’ blessings to us. Let our greatest blessing — our freedom — ring out, as we pray together and join forces collectively, with the same courage we have always displayed in the defense of everything that we hold dear.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Don Roberts, a former city councilor and former vice chairman of the Charter Commission in Augusta, is a trustee of the Greater Augusta Utility District.


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