Remarks at an Independence Day Celebration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Mr. Mayor, thank you very much. I appreciate so much your hospitality. Laura and I are honored to be here in Philadelphia. It's the perfect place to celebrate our Nation's birthday.
I told the mayor in front of the country, when I addressed the Congress, that I was coming to Philadelphia to celebrate the wonderful missions that take place in this grand city. Mr. Mayor, thank you for allowing me to come, and thank you for your gracious hospitality. Same to the Governor of this great State, our close friend Tom Ridge and his wife, Michele. Thank you all very much for your hospitality.
It's an honor to be on the stage with the senior Senator, who married quite well himself. [Laughter] I appreciate you being here, Senator, and the honorable—it's an honor to be on the stage with leaders of the faith community in Philadelphia. Distinguished guests, my fellow citizens, thank you for your warm welcome.
And thank you, Mr. Mayor, for your lovely gift. Laura and I will make a special place for it at the White House.
Today we celebrate American independence in the place of America's birth, close to a symbol of American liberty. As millions know, to see the Liberty Bell is a moving experience. In America, we set aside certain places and treasures like this to protect them from the passing of the years. We grant them special care to mark a moment in time. Here in Philadelphia, these markers are all around us, reminders of our history.
This is a dynamic and modern city. Yet if the Founders themselves were here, they would know the place. Benjamin Franklin and his wife could still find their way from here to the corner where they first saw each other, at Market and 4th. John Adams could make his way to City Tavern and show us the spot where he first shook the hand of George Washington. Thomas Jefferson would still find waiting for him the room where he drafted the Declaration of Independence. And each of the Founders, coming here, would know the ring of the Liberty Bell. It rang to announce the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence 225 years ago.
Those new citizens of a nation just 4 days old heard inspiring words but not original thoughts. Our Founders considered themselves heirs to principles that were timeless and truths that were self-evident. When Jefferson sat down to write, he was trying, he said, to place before mankind "the common sense of the subject." The common sense of the subject was that we should be free. And though great evils would linger, the world would never be the same after July 4, 1776.
A wonderful country was born and a revolutionary idea sent forth to all mankind: Freedom, not by the good graces of government but as the birthright of every individual; equality, not as a theory of philosophers but by the design of our Creator; natural rights, not for the few, not even for a fortunate many but for all people, in all places, in all times.
The world still echoes with the ideals of America's Declaration. Our ideals have been accepted in many countries and bitterly opposed by tyrants. They are the mighty rock on which we have built our Nation. They are the hope of all who are oppressed. They are the standard to which we hold others and the standard by which we measure ourselves. Our greatest achievements have come when we have lived up to these ideals. Our greatest tragedies have come when we have failed to uphold them.
When Abraham Lincoln wondered whether civil war was preferable to permanent slavery, he knew where to seek guidance. Speaking in Independence Hall, he said, "I have never had a feeling, politically, that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration," Lincoln said, "gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men and all should have an equal chance."
From the ideals in the Declaration came the laws and the Constitution, including the free exercise of religion. The Liberty Bell was originally cast to mark the 50th anniversary of William Penn's Charter of Privileges, the first guarantee of religious freedom in this Commonwealth. Now, exactly three centuries after William Penn's charter, the Founders would be pleased to see that we have respected this right of the people and the limitation on the Government. They knew what dangers can follow when Government either dictates or frustrates the exercise of religion.
Our Founders would also be pleased to walk these streets again and to find, amid the problems of modern life, a familiar American spirit of faith and good works. They would see the signs of poverty and want, but also acts of great kindness and charity. They would see addiction and the wreckage it brings, but they would also see in the works of the religious groups and charities throughout this city the power that can rescue abandoned hopes and repair a broken life. In a world very different from theirs, they would see different kinds of hardships, fears, and suffering; yet they would also recognize the brotherly love that gave this city its name.
Your mayor and I have just come from an Independence Day celebration in north Philadelphia, organized by a great American named Herbert Lusk. Herb first came into prominence as an athlete. Today, he is pastor of Greater Exodus Baptist Church, and his parishioners still like him. [Laughter] Herb's church is one of the hundreds of churches and synagogues and mosques in this city where worship of the Almighty is expressed in service to neighbors in need.
In every part of Philadelphia, caring people are doing the work of compassion. They teach boys and girls to read, as in a program called Youth Education for Tomorrow, where more than 20 faith-based literacy centers are producing great results for your city's children. At the Jesus School in north Philadelphia, little Aneeisha Graham came a year ago, not knowing any letters of the alphabet. Today, at age 7, she reads at the fourth grade level. Aneeisha is with us today. It's great to see you, darling. Thank you for coming.
Other faith-based groups in this city operate shelters for the destitute and the homeless. They bring kindness and understanding to young women facing domestic violence or crisis pregnancies. They give time and attention to the children of prisoners. These are the kinds of citizens every society needs, citizens who speak for the voiceless and feed the hungry and protect the weak and comfort the afflicted.
America's founding documents give us religious liberty in principle; these Americans show us religious liberty in action. Religious liberty is more than the right to believe in God's love; it is the right to be an instrument of God's love. Such work is beyond the reach of government and beyond the role of government. And those who hold positions of power should not be wary or hostile toward faith-based charities or other community groups which perform important and good works. We should welcome their conviction and contribution in all its diversity.
So today I call on the United States Congress to pass laws promoting and encouraging faith-based and community groups in their important public work and to never discriminate against them. These soldiers in the armies of compassion deserve our support. They often need our support. And by taking their side, we act in the best interests and tradition of our country.
Without churches and charities, many of our citizens who have lost hope would be left to their own struggles and their own fate. And as I well know, they are not the only ones whose lives can be changed and uplifted by the influence of faith in God. The founding generation discerned in that faith the source of our own rights, a divine gift of dignity, found equally in every human life.
Our Nation has always been guided by a moral compass. In every generation, men and women have protested terrible wrongs and worked for justice, for the abolition of slavery, the triumph of civil rights, for the end of child labor, the equal treatment of women, and the protection of innocent life. Not every reformer in our history has been religious, but many have been motivated by a scriptural vision in which "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."
We welcome religion in our common life because it leads millions of Americans to serve their neighbor and because it leads countless others to speak for justice, from African American churches to Catholic bishops. "Religious people," said Dr. Martin Luther King, "should not be the servant of the state nor the master of the state but the conscience of the state."
In my Inaugural Address, I asked Americans to seek a common good beyond their comfort, to serve their Nation, beginning with their neighbor. Today I urge Americans to consider what contributions we all can make, and there's plenty work for us all. Every person can find another to help. Nearly every community of conscience and faith has more to share, and corporate and foundation America can give more and give wiser.
In this way, we all become more responsible citizens. And by extending to all the promise of America, we show an important kind of patriotism.
Seventy-five years ago our 30th President, the only President born on Independence Day, spoke words that apply to our time. Calvin Coolidge said, "We live in an age of science and of abounding accumulation of material things. These did not create our Declaration. Our Declaration created them. The things of the spirit come first."
On this Fourth of July, 2001, a great anniversary of our Nation's birth and a great anniversary of religious liberty, we remember the ideals of America and the things of the spirit that sustain them.
The Liberty Bell has been mostly silent for two centuries. And during the Revolution, it was unseen, hidden under the floorboards of a church in Allentown. Yet even in silence, it has always borne one message, cast for the ages with the words of the Old Testament: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto all the inhabitants thereof."
In this place of history, we honor the first generation of Americans who followed those words, and we give thanks to the God who watched over our country then and who watches to this very day.
Thank you all. And may God bless America.
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:30 p.m. at Independence National Historical Park. In his remarks, he referred to Mayor John F. Street of Philadelphia.
George W. Bush, Remarks at an Independence Day Celebration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/216879