This column by ACRU General Counsel Ken Klukowski was published November 23, 2017 by Breitbart.
WASHINGTON, DC—President Donald Trump’s 2017 Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, the first of his presidency, invokes the religious and historical themes and foundations of America’s tradition of thanking God for all the blessings those in this country enjoy.
“Americans give thanks to Almighty God for our abundant blessings,” President Trump declared, in a presidential proclamation reproduced in its entirety by Breitbart News.
President Trump’s Thanksgiving Proclamation ties into a series of robust, unapologetic acknowledgments of the role of faith in America, beginning with the Pilgrims’ landing in America at Plymouth in 1620 and the first Thanksgiving, proclaimed by William Bradford.
In doing so, the current president joins a long line of his predecessors, highlighting that religious faith played a central role in the founding of this nation and continues to play a role in the lives of tens of millions of Americans.
In his first year in office, on October 3, 1789, President George Washington set a precedent for his successors in office, showing that there is a role that a secular president can play in the faith-based life of the nation he leads.
Washington began, “Whereas 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 therefore he was proclaiming “a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.”
President Abraham Lincoln standardized this practice of offering thanks to God, establishing it on the fourth Thursday in November.
In this year’s proclamation, President Trump quotes language at which many postmodern relativists would balk. For example, the 45th president quotes from the 16th, specifically from President Lincoln in 1863, that even in the tragedy and turmoil of the Civil War, Americans’ lives were full of blessings that “are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nonetheless remembered mercy.”
Many Americans are less accustomed in 2017 to hearing their president quote language that mentions God’s anger for people’s sins or God’s mercy in his willingness to forgive sin.
As the Supreme Court said in its 1952 decision in Zorach v. Clauson, Americans “are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” As such, government “respects the best of our traditions” when it “respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs.”
President Trump’s language is consistent with that employed by America’s 40th head of state, President Ronald Reagan, whose 1986 Thanksgiving Proclamation included, “Let us be ever mindful of the faith and spiritual values that have made our Nation great and that alone can keep us great.”
For his part, President Trump also invokes general themes that presidents have uttered through the centuries, stating, “As one people, we seek God’s protection, guidance, and wisdom, as we stand humbled by the abundance of our great Nation and the blessings of freedom, family, and faith.”