- The Washington Times - Friday, July 5, 2002

RIPLEY, W.Va. President Bush yesterday paid tribute to God and country with a rousing rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance at a star-spangled small-town Independence Day.
The crowd, numbering perhaps twice the population (3,023) of the town, loved it. But it was too much for many of the three dozen or so reporters, whose sensitivities appeared to be offended when a Baptist pastor delivered an invocation lamenting abortion, pornography, sexual deviance, godless multiculturalism and stem-cell research.
Several of the reporters, muttering their outrage, scurried about trying to get an accurate transcript, all but overlooking the president's subsequent speech.
"Oh, Lord, we admit that over the course of time, we have strayed from Your guiding principles that have made the nation great," prayed the Rev. Jack Miller, pastor of West Ripley Baptist Church. "We know that Your word proclaims, 'Woe unto those who call evil good.'
"Yet this is what we have done losing our spiritual equilibrium and inverting our moral values. In Your presence, we confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your word in the name of multiculturalism.
"We have endorsed pornography and sexual deviance in the name of freedom of expression and free speech," Mr. Miller said. "We have exploited the poor and our system of education in the name of the lottery.
"We have toyed with the idea of making human lives a commodity, in the name of medical research. We have killed our unborn in the name of choice."
Mr. Miller omitted a line "We have rewarded laziness in the name of welfare" from his prepared text.
The crowd applauded robustly and shouted "Amen!" at the conclusion of the prayer.
Mr. Bush did not hear the invocation because he was still flying in from the airport. Marine One, the helicopter carrying him, passed directly over Courthouse Square, while another speaker, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, West Virginia Democrat, addressed the sweltering crowd.
When the president arrived, without a tie, he rolled up his white shirt's sleeves and stood near a life-size bronze statue of a Confederate soldier. He was showered with whoops of approval from young men wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the Confederate battle flag and older folks sporting NASCAR caps.
Mr. Bush recited the Pledge of Allegiance with the crowd, which shouted "under God" in a show of contempt for the decision of the 9th U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco declaring those words unconstitutional. The president then loosed a passionate defense of Old Glory.
"In the moments after September the 11th, Americans turned instinctively to the flag we share," Mr. Bush said, his words echoing off the bunting-draped Jackson County Courthouse. "The American people, when we pledge our allegiance to the flag, feel renewed respect and love for all it represents.
"And no authority of government can ever prevent an American from pledging allegiance to this one nation, under God," he said, drawing wild cheers and applause.
"More than ever in the lifetimes of most Americans, the flag stands for a truly unified country," the president said. "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."
Mr. Bush chose Ripley for the speech in part because it boasts of holding "the nation's largest small-town Independence Day celebration." Aware that his audience included many evangelical Christians, the president, a born-again Methodist, unapologetically invoked the name of God.
"America's own great hope has never been in ourselves alone," he said. "The Founders humbly sought the wisdom and the blessing of Divine Providence. May we always live by that same trust. And may God continue to watch over the United States of America."
The closest Mr. Bush came to mentioning the social ills denounced by Mr. Miller in his invocation was a fleeting reference to the profound changes that have transformed America over the past 226 years. But the president chose to accentuate the positive.
"There is much in modern America that the founding generation might not understand," he said. "Yet they would recognize the Stars and Stripes, and they would know qualities of character that still define our country. They would take great pride, as I do, in the decent, responsible, caring citizens who are the true strength of our country.
Mr. Bush singled out the military for praise in the war against terrorism.
"The greatest asset we have in this conflict is the military of the United States of America," he said. "Wherever they are stationed, this nation is depending on them. And you need to be proud of them. History has called America to use our overwhelming powers in the defense of freedom. And we'll do just that."
The president announced that he has granted 15,000 foreign-born members of the military the right to apply for citizenship after being in the United States for three years, rather than the five years other applicants must wait.
"Out of respect for their brave service in this time of war, I have signed an executive order allowing them an immediate opportunity to petition for citizenship in the United States of America," Mr. Bush said.
The president seemed to revel in the crowd's demonstration of the nation's reawakened love of country.
"In this 226th year of our independence, we have seen that American patriotism is still a living faith," Mr. Bush said. "We love our country only more when she's threatened."
The aftermath of September 11 brought out the best in Americans, the president said.
"Our response to tragedy and sudden national challenges has revealed the courage, and it has revealed the kindness, of the American people. As we fight a war abroad, here at home, Americans are answering the call of service, giving their time and energy to causes greater than self-interest."
Mr. Bush planned to watch last night's fireworks with family members from the South Portico balcony of the White House. He invited 3,500 guests, mostly White House staffers and their families, to a celebration on the South Lawn. The president is scheduled to travel today to his parents' summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine, for an annual family reunion.

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