On Thursday, July 4, 2019, constitutional rights and national unity advocate and a Gold Star parent, Khizr Khan, gave the keynote address at the 57th Annual Independence Day Celebration and Naturalization Ceremony on Monticello's West Lawn before a crowd nearly 2,000 people, including nearly 80 individuals who would become America's newest citizens.
[Text of Mr. Khan's message to the new citizens]
Good morning, Today We are gathered to celebrate 243 Anniversary of the Day of our Independence and Monticello’s 57th annual Independence Day celebration and the Naturalization Ceremony.
First, my sincere gratitude to our Veterans and their families, our Women and Men serving in uniform today and their families, members of our Law Enforcement, members of our National Intelligence our Civil Service, our Foreign Service, our Congress and our Judiciary and the families serving along with these patriots - we are grateful to you for keeping the flame of liberty burning bright and for your service to the nation with exemplary dedication even during the most challenging circumstances.
And my sincere thanks to the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, its President Leslie Greene Bowman, Honorable John Charles Thomas, Trustee Emirates, and Ann Taylor, Executive Vice President and the Foundation’s dedicated staff –thank you for the invitation to participate in this sacred and inspiring ceremony, reflection of the Soul of America, reminding us of the past and giving us hope for a better future.
Also especial word of appreciation to our public servants and our Municipal Band of Charlottesville who have joined us today in making this ceremony possible and celebratory.
Congratulations to the soon to be new Americans today, as we welcome nearly 80 new citizens from over 35 countries around the world, among you are our future noble laureates, technology innovators, teachers, bankers, lawyers, Health care providers, employers, professionals, wage workers, with one common theme of dignity of hard work and dedication to make own life and life of families and communities better - it is reported that all immigrants by their hard work and determination-to-do-better make America stronger and prosperous.
Not too long ago I sat in a similar ceremony with gratitude in my heart for being elevated in human dignity by this nation about which I only could dream since I first read the Declaration of Independence of the United States in 1972 when I was a law student in Pakistan, I was then and even today remain in awe of the spirit of this blessed nation.
I remember reading the Declaration of Independence while standing in my university dorm room, all 1238 words of it and all 18 grievances listed against the then- king, how similar, I realized, these grievances were to the grievances of the entire colonized world;
I then read the Articles of our Constitution, yes Article one - People’s Congress, will be the supreme legislative body of this blessed Democracy, will also perform sacred duty of Checks and Balances and oversight of the government. Regardless of today’s challenges to its sanctity, I thought then and still believe, our Congress remains supreme institution of our Democracy and it was the intent of our forefathers to place our Congress as Article one institution of our system of government, then I read the Article Two, the Executive / Presidency and then Article 3, the Judiciary and I understood how this civilized nation will lead the mankind by example of civility, tolerance, debate over differences, and respect for all opinion, then came the best part - our Bill of Rights, I call our Bill of Rights - a sacred document in which human dignities are enshrined, I was then and remain today in awe of our First Amendment - the freedom of conscience, for which many nations and their leaders have come to America to learn how to uplift their people in human dignity – let me read it …“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
What an honor for me to be humbly standing at the steps of Mr Jefferson’s home and as a proud resident of Charlottesville, Virginia, a blessed city of Thomas Jefferson, and home of Mr Jefferson’s University, the University of Virginia. I have also read the forerunner to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, adopted by the Virginia Assembly in January 1786 and like the Declaration of Independence, was written by Thomas Jefferson.
I also read with enquiry our 13th amendment abolishing slavery in 1865 and our 19th amendment Women’s Right to vote adopted in 1919… and wondered why these human dignities came so late. These years of adoption of the amendments tell the world of our history of moving forward with the American Experience and that so much still needs to be done.
Having compared our Constitution with other nations of the world, I state, there is none like our, our Rule of Law, our Separation of Power, our Checks and Balances, not perfect but with most human dignities enshrined in these American values – the Constitutions of other countries grant their people what their government decides they deserve but ours is “We the People”, we tell the government what it can do … read the first five words of the our First Amendment …”Congress shall make no laws …” a telling of American spirit.
As we pay tribute to our liberty and freedom today we must remind ourselves how it was before American Declaration of Independence, so we can appreciate why America matters to the mankind, We are aware of the history of mankind ruled for thousands of years by the kings, princes, dictators, and authoritarians; ordinary person like myself was to listen to the dictators’ decree, follow it silently, but only until the American Declaration of Independence in 1776 when America said “…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness...”.
Today we celebrate this blessed day in our history at the door steps of the author of the Declaration of Independence, when for the first time in the history of mankind Americans declared that they will self-govern as free people. Today we pay our utmost respect to that love of freedom, which did not come without significant cost to the original signatories to the Declaration of Independence.
We express our most profound gratitude for their sacrifice, and since then thousands of those who gave all at the altar of freedom so that we could enjoy the freedoms, the human dignities that mankind had yearned from beginning, we promise to them today, and you soon to be new citizens included, that .... we will never forget them and generations of patriots who gave us the freedoms we cherish today, by sacrificing their all.
As the vigilance of our National Security leaders has shown and warned us that our adversaries have attacked our institution of democracy, our scared system of elections and our unity.
Our adversaries, adversaries of human dignity,had shrewdly realized one weakness in our democratic system - our lack of participation in our election process,
so they decided to malign our elections by sowing division and hatred among us - they have done same in other parts of the world with some success but now the world has come to realize like most of us that America will not stand silently while corrupt dictators, authoritarians, kings and rulers continue to attack our sovereignty. If you want to see the proof of our realization, see the level of participation in the last elections, it is reported that in 2018 elections, a record number of Americans participated to protect our democracy, our freedoms from the attacks by our adversaries and to shield American elections from cyber and social media interference by our adversaries.
As soon to be newly minted citizens, you must remember to register to vote today - your country has bestowed the highest honor, the honor of citizenship upon you, it is your turn now and every election henceforward to participate not only by voting but to remain engaged in your communities, seek elected office, lead your community, never under estimate the power of the opportunity you have been given by this blessed nation, our nation.
Always remember that to live a successful life in American democracy you must have voice. Build your voice with service to your country.
When I became a citizen like you, I also recited that same oath of citizenship that you recite today and I remember a certain part of it every day which states “… that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” – I promised myself to obey all laws, pay my taxes timely and participate in our system of democracy to strengthen it and keeping my promise to my country, after 2016, even though it has been difficult at times as each speaking engagement reminds the valor and sacrifices of many sons and daughters of America like our son CPT Humayun Khan, who gave everything for something greater than themselves in the service of this great nation,
I have continued to speak for our Constitution, for our Unity and Democracy – as Humayun would have wanted us to do under the current circumstances …today is my 253rd nationwide and international speaking engagement ... I have continued to speak also due to concerns expressed in one among thousands letters I received in 2016. It was written by a retired military nurse with 20 years of service including in Second World War in Europe. She wrote in the last paragraph of her long letter to me, “Mr Khan, continue to speak to remind us what is at stake, the similarities of intolerance, hate and division, attacks on the most vulnerable community of immigrants and communities of faith, attacks on our places of worship are so similar to the time of pre-Second World War in Europe, had more people spoken then, mankind could have avoided the atrocities committed before and during second world war… continue to speak.” …so I have continued to speak –
To our soon to be new citizens you do same, speak, organize, vote and do your most what you can from your platform as dignified citizens of this blessed nation...you are the north-star of this great nation – a nation of immigrants.
In conclusion, I am a patriotic immigrant American, I am a Muslim also but being Muslim is circumstantial to my calling, I am here to remind all of us the holy maxims of the Enlightenment and Reason, that we all can agree, provide for a path to greater social justice. And here I pay tribute to the hard work and sacrifices of our civil rights leaders to uplift all of us in this blessed nation. So much more still remains to be done . Our neighbor is not to blame, her hand is what we hold in facing the challenges of ever changing world...
I remind us the quote from Reagan’s farewell address to the nation, I remember standing up infront of the television at home with the same awe I felt when I first read the Declaration of Independence in 1972, but this was 1989, Reagan had completed his second term and in his farewell speech he said, “...I've spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don't know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That's how I saw it, and see it still.” Reagan said
Our, your and mine, story is like that of John Winthrop, an early pilgrim seeking freedom, of conscience and choice, and finding the shining city on the hill.
Now, that shining city needs you and me and our voice so that it continues to be a beacon for all free minded people, let's stand in solidarity as Americans, soon to be newly minted like you and myself and those who came long before, to tell the world, we still believe in America.
Yes we believe in the equal dignity as enshrined in our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, we believe in the dignity of the asylum seekers, children separated from family and caged at our border which reminds us of the concentration camps of the Second World War, we join the courageous voice of our Asylum Officers, “that current program is fundamentally contrary to the moral fabric of our nation” …our nation of immigrants.
Again Happy 243rd Independence day and congratulations to all soon to be new Americans.
God bless you and God bless and protect the United States of America.