Thanksgiving often conjures up images of Pilgrim men in their mostly black get ups with big buckles on their shoes and even bigger ones on their tall hats and maybe a musket of the blunderbuss type in their arms. And the women, also dressed in black with white mother Hubbard type bonnets. Or maybe the Pilgrims all gathered around a table laden with food from the new world, sitting down with the native peoples who were here before them and who, as the story goes, rendered them aid so they could survive.
There are many reasons people have come to America – to explore or to seek their fortune, but just as many in the early days came to find a place to freely practice their religion – people like the Pilgrims and the Puritans.
They came because in the 1500s England broke from the Roman Catholic Church and created a new church called the Church of England. And if you lived in England, you didn’t have a choice – everyone had to belong to the church. Some of those who didn’t want to practice as the C of E told them to formed a group called Separatists. They wanted to separate from the Church of England, which was illegal and dangerous. The Separatists, under the leadership of William Bradford, decided to leave England and start a settlement where they could practice their religion freely. Bradford went to the Virginia Company and asked them for permission to establish a new colony. The Virginia Company agreed, so the Pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower in September 1620 towards the New World. That first Thanksgiving, the one we often think of when we sit down to our Turkey dinner, is because of these Separatists who came to the New World seeking religious freedom and shared a meal with the people that helped them survive there.
This Thanksgiving we need to step back and remind ourselves what we are grateful for. Are we grateful to still live in a country that recognizes the right to practice our religion, no matter what it is, as long as it does not infringe on other people’s rights to practice, or not practice their own beliefs? Or are we going to turn into a country of intolerance and led by fear where we make people, our own citizens, register if they don’t believe as we do because someone else – like ISIS, is spreading terror? If we do that the terrorists have won a huge battle over the American way of life and American values. Not only will they have succeeded in making us infringe on our Constitutionally guaranteed practice of Freedom of Religion, we will have become like them, or the old time Church of England, which tried to force the Pilgrims to worship their way.
The terrorists attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere were horrific and while nobody of any influence has suggested all American Muslims be forced to change their religion, registering them sounds like the first step towards taking away their freedom of religion. Are internment camps next? There have been radical domestic terrorists who identified with White Supremacist “Christians” – like Timothy McVay, who blew up the Murrow Federal Building. After that bombing no one suggested all Christians be registered, radical or otherwise.
Radical talk, especially like that of the Republican frontrunner for the presidency, is dangerous – to do so just to takes advantage of a tragedy for an increase in the polls. It is shameful. I won’t mention his name, but is there anything this media hound won’t do?
This Thanksgiving let’s be thankful for our family and friends, for good health, enough food and a warm place to live and for a country where we can worship freely and say whatever we like, even if we don’t agree.