Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

December 1, 2013

On Thanksgivukkah, give thanks for religious freedom

By Charles C. Haynes

The marketing frenzy surrounding “Thanksgivukkah” — a term coined by a Massachusetts woman for this year’s rare convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah — reminds me of an old New Yorker cartoon:

Leaning on the railing of a ship bound for the New World, one Pilgrim says to another: “My immediate goal is religious freedom, but my long term plan is to go into real estate.”

The joke works because as every schoolchild learns, millions have come to these shores drawn by the promise of religious freedom — and once here, immigrants have used that freedom to build a free enterprise system that is the envy of the world.

That quintessential American spirit was on full display this week as the marketplace filled with everything from Thanksgivukkah cards toyarmulkes with Pilgrim belt buckles. My favorite Thanksgivukkah entrepreneur is the 9-year-old who came up with a turkey-shaped menorah called “Menurkey” and then got it funded through Kickstarter.

Beyond the fun and hype, however, is the vitally important causal link between freedom from oppression, especially in matters of conscience, and freedom to innovate and prosper. As one of theThanksgivukkah t-shirts puts it: “8 Days of Light, Liberty & Latkes.”

Both holidays are rooted in stories about thestruggle for religious freedom. Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees in the 2nd century BCE over the army of a Syrian king who had profaned the Temple and outlawed Judaism. And Thanksgiving has its origins in 17thcentury celebrations by the Pilgrims of Plymouth who came to what is now Massachusetts seeking freedom from religious persecution.

But neither holiday marks a lasting triumph forreligious freedom. Rome eventually conquersJerusalem and re-subjugates the Jews. The Pilgrims and Puritans of Massachusetts BayColony do protect religious freedom, but only for themselves and not for others.

Not until Roger Williams founds Rhode Island in 1635 does religious freedom find a true and lasting home in America. Exiled from Massachusetts Bayfor advocating liberty of conscience, Williams created the first society on earth that fully separated church from state and guaranteed free exercise of religion for all people.

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