Bush preaches strength, unity

President celebrates July Fourth, declares `one nation under God'


RIPLEY, W.Va. - Declaring the United States "one nation under God," President Bush led a small-town Independence Day celebration in West Virginia yesterday as millions of Americans put aside fears of a terrorist attack to mark the first July Fourth since Sept. 11.

Bush started the day with an old-fashioned tribute to God and country in Ripley, W.Va., which boasts "the nation's largest small-town July Fourth celebration." He returned to the White House to watch the traditional fireworks extravaganza in the nation's capital.

Bush said the nation's reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks showed that patriotism is "a living faith" that grows stronger when America is threatened.

"Watching the events of that day, no American felt this was an attack on others. It was an attack on all of us," he told the flag-waving West Virginia crowd. "In a moment, we discovered again that we're a single people. ... We've been united in our grief, and we are united in our resolve to protect our people and to defeat the enemies of the United States of America."

Americans proved him right by braving the possibility of attack and the inconvenience of extraordinary security precautions to maintain the ritual of picnics, cookouts and fireworks.

"I don't want to be scared, so I don't think about it," said Nola Cestaric, a convenience store clerk who showed up at 4 a.m. for Bush's 10 a.m. speech. "If you let them scare you, they win."

For many Americans, including Bush, Independence Day was also a chance to criticize a ruling by a panel of federal judges that the phrase under God in the Pledge of Allegiance violates constitutional prohibitions against state-sanctioned religion. The ruling of three judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has been stayed pending input from other members of the court.

"No authority of government can ever prevent an American from pledging allegiance to this one nation under God," Bush said, to sustained applause.

During the Pledge of Allegiance, the crowd of several thousand emphasized the phrase under God by shouting it.

The gathering in front of the Jackson County Courthouse opened with an invocation denouncing multiculturalism, the lottery, gay rights, abortion and medical research on embryos in the name of "our living redeemer and Lord, Jesus Christ."

"We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of multiculturalism; we have been forced to honor sexual deviance in the name of freedom of expression; we have exploited the system of education in the name of the lottery," said the Rev. Jack Miller of West Ripley Baptist Church. "We have toyed with the idea of helping human life in the name of medical research. We have killed our unborn children in the name of choice."

Bush, who arrived after the invocation, took a more inclusive tone.

"Unlike any other country, America came into the world with a message for mankind - that all are created equal and all are meant to be free," Bush said. "Every ethnic background is known and respected here in America. Every religious belief is practiced and protected here."

Bush also announced that he had signed an executive order making it easier for noncitizens who serve in the U.S. military to become citizens. The order, which applies to about 15,000 soldiers, would eliminate the three-year waiting period for military personnel seeking citizenship. Permanent, legal residents of the United States are allowed to serve in the military.

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