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U.S. News
Believe it or not, Bush celebrates 4th in Ripley

Friday, July 05, 2002

By Dana Milbank, The Washington Post

RIPLEY, W.Va. -- President Bush celebrated a highly spiritual Independence Day in this Appalachian county seat, recalling how "the wisdom and the blessing of Divine Providence" have guided the nation for 226 years.

There were terrorism jitters among the several thousand gathered in front of the courthouse in Ripley under exceptionally tight security for the presidential visit, but Bush's commemoration of the first Independence Day since the Sept. 11 attacks proceeded without incident.

The most striking characteristic of the ceremony, an expanded version of tiny Ripley's annual Fourth of July celebrations that began in the mid-19th century, was the steady profession of faith. The event began before Bush's arrival with a fiery invocation by the Rev. Jack Miller of West Ripley Baptist Church.

"We have ridiculed the absolute truth of your word in the name of multiculturalism," Miller prayed. "We have been forced to honor sexual deviance in the name of freedom of expression. We have exploited the system of education in the name of the lottery. We have toyed with the idea of helping human life in the name of medical research. We have killed our unborn children in the name of choice."

After Bush entered, the crowd recited the Pledge of Allegiance, shouting out the words "under God" in defiance of the unpopular ruling by an appellate court panel last week that such words in the pledge were unconstitutional.

Bush also alluded to the decision, which was suspended pending a full court ruling. "No authority of government can ever prevent an American from pledging allegiance to this one nation under God," the president said beneath the clock-tower of the 86-year-old Jackson County courthouse, prompting a sustained standing ovation from the crowd.

Bush, who removed his tie, unbuttoned his collar and rolled up his sleeves before giving his 20-minute speech beneath a perfect sky, also drew cheers for the freedoms "granted to each one of us by Almighty God," and he expressed confidence that the founders "would join us all in giving thanks for all that we have."

"Today, as much as ever before, America bears the hope of the world, yet from the day of our founding, America's own great hope has never been in ourselves alone," Bush 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."

Even by presidential standards, security for Bush's Independence Day appearance was tight. After weeks of work by the Secret Service and local police, snipers and spotters with binoculars stood yesterday morning on the courthouse directly above Bush and on buildings around the square.

Police helicopters hovered, several blocks of town were fenced off, and the president was shielded by a tent to keep him from view when he went from his limousine into the courthouse. Reporters traveling in the White House entourage were put through two inspections with metal detectors while baggage was screened twice by dogs, once by X-ray and once by hand.

Some West Virginians came with terrorism worries fueled by government warnings that the al-Qaida terror network may have been plotting an Independence Day attack. "There's been talk," said Melissa Hughes, sitting on a sidewalk. Dorothy Fisher, sitting with Hughes, fretted: "This would be a good spot for it to happen."

But such concerns did little to diminish the thousands who converged on the town green, many waving flags and wearing patriotic colors. "Very patriotic, these people here," said Jim Rubin, a local Abraham Lincoln impersonator who came to the speech in costume. "There's no thought about any kind of problems in the mountains of West Virginia."

The 3,200 residents of Ripley seemed far more amused than worried about Bush's visit, though. Various businesses displayed signs with messages such as "I-77 Ford Welcomes You, Mr. President," while a sign in a vacant shop in town pronounced: "Ripley says: Believe it or not, Bush is Hot." Bush arrived with much fanfare in Marine One, which landed on the front lawn of Mabel Chapman, 81.

"I don't know if there's ever been this much excitement in Ripley," state police Sgt. T.D. Corbitt said.

In his remarks, Bush spoke of an America unified by the terrorist attacks last year, defending freedoms gained in 1776, in "that one moment when the world changed forever." He also mentioned an executive order signed Wednesday granting 15,000 non-citizens in the military the ability to file for expedited citizenship.

"There is no American race; there's only an American creed," Bush said. "This creed of freedom and quality has lifted the lives of millions of Americans, of citizens by birth and citizens by choice. This creed draws our friends to us, it sets our enemies against us, and always inspires the best that is within us. In this 226th year of our independence, we have seen that American patriotism is still a living faith. We love our country only more when she's threatened."

Bush returned to Washington to watch the holiday fireworks there with friends and family on the White House balcony.

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