On Sunday, July 4, 2021, members of the St. George, Utah community had the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day in a unique and meaningful way. While many people were attending bar-b-ques and preparing to light fireworks, community members gathered at Kuzy Hall of the Saint George Catholic Church as United we Pledge presented, “A Prayer of Freedom: A Patriotic Commitment to Faith, Family, and Freedom.” This interfaith presentation focused on American values and our constitutional right to religious freedom.
The evening featured music by the St. George Interfaith Choir; a flag ceremony presented by the Knights of Columbus; speakers, including TV news anchor Dave McCann and Elder Lance B. Wickman, Emeritus General Authority Seventy and General Counsel for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; and a Prayer of Freedom offered by Father David Bittmenn of the Saint George Catholic Church. Rabbi Helene Ainbinder, Beit Chaverim Jewish Community of Greater Zion and president of the St. George Interfaith Council emceed the event.
Additionally, Gideon Willard read his essay “What Does Patriotism Mean?” As a ninth grader at Dixie Middle School, Willard’s essay won the 2020-2021 “Help Patriotism Prevail” national essay contest. The contest asked students to respond to a prompt based on the book Saving Dr. Warren… “A True Patriot” written by Jeffrey McKenna. In his essay, Willard stressed the need to uphold the United States Constitution and remember our country’s roots, including the roles God and religion played in forming the nation. Willard’s essay can be read on the Help Patriotism Prevail website, https://www.help-patriotism-prevail.com/blank.
Rabbi Ainbinder began the evening by calling to memory the horrors the Jewish people faced during Holocost, emphasising that the Jewish people, “continue to practice their faith in freedom and in peace,” despite the challenges they face. She continued to note that when there is a crisis, people begin to look for a sanctuary. “People of faith call it spirituality,” she said, “and they pray.” She then offered a prayer imploring God’s blessings on all those who enter into houses of worship and seek God’s presence. She offered thanks for “the joy of community, the gift of diversity, and the vision of harmony.”
Dave McCann, a notable Utah broadcaster with thirty years of broadcasting experience, presented his address titled “A Prayer for Freedom.” Using the metaphor of sheep following a shepherd, he asked, “When is the last time you heard the voice of the Good Shepherd?” He encouraged listeners to “reduce the noise around them” and tune themselves to God. McCann testified that the way we “strengthen this country and fortify our faith, our family, and our freedom is by listening more closely to the Savior and following His guidance.”
Elder Lance Wickman’s address titled “The Constitutional Right for Religious Freedom,” reminded us of the unity we felt as United States Citizens in the days after September 11, 2001, and encouraged us to unite under the United States Constitution. He emphasized the importance of religious freedom provided by our constitution, stating that the founding fathers “acknowledged the hand of divine providence in the establishment of the constitution.” Elder Wickman reminded us that, although the court is important, it is not the most significant defender of faith. We are.
Lex Howard, CEO of Balance of Nature, presented the “United We Pledge” award to the men and women in uniform of Washington County. The award recognizes community members who have exhibited exemplary efforts to preserve civil liberties and the values of faith, family, and freedom, and who defend the U.S. Constitution. St. George Chief of Police Kyle Whitehead accepted the award on behalf of Washington County’s police force.
Chief Whitehead said, “In the last year and a half we have seen some challenges in our country and even in our community, but I want you to know that I am optimistic that there are good times ahead, that we will be blessed here, and as we put our faith forward and as we look for ways to lift where we stand that things will be okay. I want to commit to you that as law enforcement we will continue to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, particularly religious freedom.”
The St. George Interfaith Choir performed several beautiful numbers including “The Star Spangled Banner”; “Distant Land (A Prayer for Freedom)”; “Heal Our Land,” which was written by former U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch; and “God of Our Fathers.” The Choir is composed of singers from several denominations and was joined by members of Lieto Voices, St. George Chamber Singers, and Southern Utah Heritage Choir. The choir is directed by John Ribera and accompanied by Lore Rencher. Ron Winterton translated the lyrics into sign language.
Father David Bittmenn of the St. George Catholic Church concluded the evening with a benediction and prayer for freedom. In his prayer, Father Bittmenn gave thanks for the opportunities we have to gather and asked God to guard those who devote their lives to protecting our freedoms, particularly the freedom to worship. He implored that we be united in freedom, joy, and peace, and that “these values will continue to characterize the nation in which we live.
United We Pledge has plans to hold “A Prayer of Freedom” event annually on or near Independence Day