A multifaith celebration demonstrates what it means to be American

Essay By
Learn more about David J. Kramer.
David J. Kramer
David J. Kramer
Executive Director, George W. Bush Institute and Vice President
George W. Bush Presidential Center
Learn more about Chris Walsh.
Chris Walsh
Director, Global Policy
George W. Bush Institute

A multifaith celebration at the George W. Bush Presidential Center last week exemplified America at its very best.  

It is reflective of the spirit of America that Christians, Jews, Muslims, or a multitude of other faiths can come together – despite considerable differences and even amid the deep emotions that have been stirred by developments in the Middle East.  

We did just that at the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council iftar dinner last week. Held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the event gathered people of different faiths at the Bush Center to show respect for the faith of our neighbors and the desire to join in camaraderie over a good meal. It was also reflective of the Bush Center’s core values of strengthening democracy here at home, advancing free societies, and ensuring opportunity for all.  

Events like the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council dinner showcase the greatness of our country. When united by our founding ideals, Americans should reaffirm the importance of democratic values, civic responsibility, civility, and a pluralistic society. So we urge all Americans to find occasions to break bread with those of other faiths and political views, as we did, to help build up our communities.  

Because, make no mistake, it’s easy to attack someone you don’t know, even question their patriotism or demonize their faith. That becomes much harder when we commit to building community with others by having dinner with them as we did that night. 

And we are different people. We do and should disagree. That is the essence of a free and democratic society. But even if we don’t think alike or believe the same things, we are bound by common ideals, founding documents, and a commitment to cherished liberties like the freedom to worship (or not) as we please.  

By virtue of gathering together, we demonstrated that we all believe in a pluralistic, free, and tolerant society that embraces an incredible range of differences while never forgetting the dignity of our fellow Americans. Importantly, this belief also allows us to find areas of common purpose amidst disagreements.   

Such cooperation can be vital when various religious communities sadly find themselves targeted by bigotry and hatred. Efforts like those spearheaded by the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, the White House’s National Strategy to Counter Anti-Semitism, and its recently announced National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia provide meaningful examples.  

Indeed, the hatred of or violence committed against fellow Americans based on who they are or what they believe is a rejection of America itself. And so, through multifaith celebrations like the one we held, we boldly demonstrate what it truly means to be American.  

The dinner, and others like it, are arguably needed these days more than in years past. Reinforcing respect for each other and disagreeing civilly are fundamental to our democracy.  

It was our first president, George Washington, who wrote to various faith congregations across the young nation making the case that religious freedom was both a right and duty of citizenship. Part of being an American is respecting those who worship differently or don’t worship at all. 

And it was President George W. Bush who reminded Americans of this sacred civic duty after 9/11. Seeing a backlash against Muslim communities, President Bush said, “Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America, they represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.” 

At the Bush Center, we believe in the goodness of the American experiment. Though not perfect and tested more recently, this is the best system for protecting liberty, justice, opportunity, and the pursuit of happiness. We also believe that America is the indispensable nation for supporting democratic values abroad. Doing so is extremely important in fostering a more peaceful, prosperous, and free world that ultimately makes America safer and better off. 

To those who gathered at the Bush Center in devotion to faith, community, and country – and to those who gather in their own communities – we thank you for representing the best of America and humankind.