Culture, Science & Faith

Reflections on Thanksgiving, Past and Present

We've come a long way from the Pilgrims, but there's still hope.

Paul Albaugh · Nov. 24, 2015

As we approach Thanksgiving Day, a day when we set aside time to give thanks to Almighty God for the blessings He has bestowed upon us, it’s worth reflecting on the early days of our country and assess where we are now.

Our celebration of Thanksgiving is rooted in the first “harvest feast” in 1621 following the establishment in 1620 of Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts by a group of religious refugees known as Pilgrims.

These Puritan “separatists” had originally fled to Holland in 1608 to escape religious persecution by the Church of England. They had suffered persecution and imprisonment for their beliefs and were seeking to worship God freely as they chose to, rather than being dictated by the effectively state-run church. They found this freedom in Holland, but the culture there was corrupt and degraded, so the Pilgrims returned to England and subsequently arranged for travel to the New World.

After an extremely difficult eight-week voyage on the Mayflower, they dropped anchor on Nov. 11, 1620, at Provincetown Harbor off the coast of what is now known as Massachusetts. On Dec. 11, they signed the Mayflower Compact, which is America’s original document for civil government. This document introduced self-government and became part of the foundation upon which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were built.

The winter of 1621 proved to be catastrophic for the Pilgrims as only 53 people survived. Despite their tragic loss of life and the hardships of building a new way of life, they persevered and the summer proved to be productive as their crops flourished. Having learned new skills from the Indians and storing up their excess, they were able to set aside a three-day “harvest feast” upon which they shared with the Indians and gave thanks to God for providing them with so much.

Over the next 20 years, 25,000 more people came to the New World, many seeking religious freedom. Their desire to be free from the oppression of the Church of England led to the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution. Particularly noteworthy in this heritage is the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” These first restrictions on the government were and are necessary for a free people to live.

But we have come a long way since the Pilgrims landed. In present day America, our college campuses are rife with “speech zones” and “safe spaces.”

At Yale, students protested because a faculty member suggested the administration shouldn’t dictate what an appropriate Halloween costume is. At the University of Missouri, students protested and eventually ousted the school’s president because he supposedly failed to resolve racial tensions on campus. At Dartmouth, student protesters mobbed the library shouting profanities at studying students for supposedly committing racial oppression. At Princeton, student protesters stormed the president’s office and demanded that all references to President Woodrow Wilson be removed for his racism and segregation support.

The examples are numerous. These universities that were once bastions of free speech, free thought and free expression have now become the epicenters for limited speech, limited thinking and limited expression due to concerns of offending someone. Political correctness rules the day, and we are quickly devolving into a society of people who are intolerant of tolerance. Indeed, we are rapidly moving toward the kind of society that George Orwell warned of in his classic novel 1984.

But it’s not just the mobs on these college campuses that want to limit free speech, thought and expression. A recent Pew survey shows that 40% of Millennials (those between the age of 18-34) are in favor of allowing the government to prevent statements that are offensive. Furthermore, 35% of Democrats want the government to stop speech against minorities while only (only!) 18% of Republicans favor doing so. So we don’t just have a problem with college campuses, we have a problem with an entire generation of people and progressive-minded “thinkers.”

Let’s be perfectly clear: We are not advocating for people to offend minorities or use racial slurs or show hatred to one another. But we are advocating for the preservation of free speech, of free thought and the freedom to worship as our forefathers recognized as being essential to Liberty.

We are already experiencing a government that disregards the liberties of our people. Our government is forcing nuns to pay for birth control and taxpayers to fund abortions. Christian churches around the nation are hunkering down for the legal ramifications of the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision and the inevitable lawsuits. It has already happened to bakers, photographers and florists, and it’s naïve to think that our churches won’t be experiencing it soon.

So while 40% of Millennials advocate that the government should have the power to limit “offensive speech,” we can be thankful that they remain in the minority. And we should continue the effort to educate our fellow Americans on our rich history of Liberty. We can be thankful that, despite the relentless attack on Liberty from those who hate it, we still are the freest nation on earth and we will continue to be as long as there are Patriots who are willing to stand and defend it.

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