Bush urges Americans to celebrate holiday
'On the Fourth of July, we count our blessings'
RIPLEY, West Virginia. (CNN) -- Marking the first Independence Day since the terror attacks of September 11, President Bush stirred a West Virginia crowd with patriotic fervor, calling Americans "a single people" committed to freedom.
Dressed in a plain white shirt with his sleeves rolled up against the humidity, Bush stood with veterans in the small town of Ripley to celebrate the 226th anniversary of America's independence.
"The Fourth of July is a day for gratitude and a day for celebration," said the president. "On the Fourth of July, we count our blessings, and there are so many to count."
Bush handed out high praise for the nation's military, and announced an executive order allowing military personnel born outside the country to immediately petition for citizenship rather than wait out the time required by law.
"The greatest asset we have in this conflict is the military of the United States of America," Bush said.
Under immigration law, non-citizens must serve in the U.S. military for three years before they are eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship. However, during times of war, a president can issue an executive order, allowing non-citizens on active duty to become eligible for citizenship before serving three years in the military.
About 30,000 non-citizens have been serving in the military since September 11, and roughly 15,000 of them have been serving for less than three years, a senior administration official said
The president described the founding fathers' Declaration of Independence from England in 1776 as a watershed moment.
"All Americans can draw a straight line from the free lives that we lead today to that one moment when the world changed forever," he said. "From that day in 1776, freedom has had a home, and freedom has had a defender."
"Unlike any other country, America came into the world with a message for mankind that all are created equal and all are meant to be free," the president said. "There is no American race, there's only an American creed."
It was that creed of human rights for all, equal justice, the rule of law, personal responsibility and tolerance that the terrorists of September 11 targeted, Bush said. That infamous day, he said, proved "that American patriotism is still a living faith."
"We love our country only more when she is threatened," he said. "Watching the events of that day, no American felt this was an attack on others. It was an attack on all of us."
"In a moment, we discovered again that we are a single people," Bush said. "When you strike one American, you strike us all."
The president also criticized at a federal court ruling last week that declared the recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools was unconstitutional because of the words "under God."
"In the moments after Sept. 11, Americans turned instinctively to the flag we share," he said. "... No authority of government can ever prevent an American from pledging allegiance to this one nation under God."
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