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OPINION: Thanksgiving would be difficult to establish today

Michael Dawidziak has been a political consultant, strategist and pollster for over 30 years.If Thanksgiving weren't already an established national holiday, it's highly doubtful we could make it one today. It would almost certainly become a controversial issue, marred by contentious and divisive debate.

All of us have grown up in an America with only benign and positive images of Thanksgiving. From the Pilgrims to Abraham Lincoln, who proclaimed the national day in 1863, the symbolism is all feel-good - gratitude, family, abundance - imagery that should help unite a country. Indeed, in the midst of a bloody civil war, Lincoln stressed the healing effects of such a day upon the divided nation.

Today, however, it would surely be a different story. A federally recognized day for giving thanks? Thanks to whom? You know who . . . God. Well, whose God?

You can see the problems that would ensue. The debate would rage. Fox commentators would argue that the country's founders undoubtedly intended on founding a Christian nation, and this holiday must be devoted to giving thanks to the Christian God. MSNBC commentators would argue for pure secularism and say that God has no place in a government-sponsored holiday in a country that believes in the separation of church and state.

Both arguments would miss the mark - and they point out a great divide that has opened up in the United States today. There are few basic concepts of constitutionality more misunderstood than the separation of church and state.

It's not uncommon to hear these parts of the First Amendment referred to as the "separation clause." They are, in fact, the "establishment clause" and the "free exercise clause": "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ."

Seems clear enough what the founders intended.

Yes, they were predominantly Christian, but beware of that slippery slope. They were also almost totally Anglican and Congregational. Does that mean they intended to found a Protestant Christian nation (and only some Protestant sects at that)?

The secularists' arguments are equally faulty. They love to point out that the Constitution does not mention God. They're right. But, the birth certificate of the nation is the Declaration of Independence, and it most certainly does.

In fact, the basis of the argument to establish a new country is rooted in the belief in a "Creator," even though it was written by Thomas Jefferson, the man who is often cited as the secularists' patron saint (so to speak). If there is no creator, then there was no one to create all men equal or to endow them with unalienable rights - and the whole argument put forward in the text falls. Throw out God and you throw out the Declaration of Independence.

The founders seemed to have been blessed with a great deal of common sense on this issue - which seems almost totally lacking in us today. The statehouse is not God's house, but neither is he barred from entering. People of good will are not prohibited from bringing God into the halls of government as long as they don't try to make them God's halls.

God probably doesn't want them anyway.

This year, we would do well to remember Lincoln's words in his proclamation establishing the day of Thanksgiving, advising us to "fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Amen to that.


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