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President Bush promotes freedom abroad, character at home during inaugural speech

WASHINGTON (BP)–President George W. Bush called for the United States-supported spread of freedom throughout the world and a strengthening of American character as a product of such liberty in his second inaugural speech Jan. 20.

After being sworn in for a second term, Bush said this country’s “vital interests and our deepest beliefs” are united in the cause of freedom. “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands,” he said. “The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”

The president said American policy is “to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”

He also said this country must complete the “unfinished work of American freedom. In a world moving toward liberty, we are determined to show the meaning and promise of liberty.”

Bush spoke for 21 minutes before the tens of thousands of people gathered on a frigid day on the west side of the U.S. Capitol. His speech reinforced and seemingly elaborated on the policies his administration has followed since the 2001 terrorist attacks — America must defeat terrorism and promote freedom in the countries where terrorists may thrive in order to be secure. His remarks once again placed his administration and the country on the side of the oppressed.

“All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know — the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors,” the president said. “When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you.”

America will use its influence for freedom’s sake, Bush said, warning rulers who might oppress their people and promoting reform in other governments. “In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty,” he said.

The president encouraged Americans not to doubt the universal appeal of freedom. “Americans, of all people, should never be surprised by the power of our ideals,” he said. “Eventually, the call of freedom comes to every mind and every soul. We do not accept the existence of permanent tyranny because we do not accept the possibility of permanent slavery.”

Bush saluted those who have helped liberate tens of millions of people. He called on “our youngest citizens” to follow their example, including that of the men and women whose deaths “honored their whole lives.”

“You have seen that life is fragile, and evil is real, and courage triumphs,” the president told America’s young people. “Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself. And in your days you will add not just to the wealth of our country but to its character.”

The “public interest depends on private character,” including integrity, tolerance and the “rule of conscience,” he said.

The exercise of freedom should be marked by service and mercy, especially toward the weak, Bush said. “Liberty for all does not mean independence from one another,” he said. “Americans, at our best, value the life we see in one another and must always remember that even the unwanted have worth. And our country must abandon all the habits of racism, because we cannot carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time.”

Bush said he will “strive in good faith to heal” the divisions in America. Americans can regain the unity they had after the terrorist attacks when the United States “acts for good, and the victims of disaster are given hope, and the unjust encounter justice, and the captives are set free,” he said.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called it “a great speech that reaffirmed the timeless verities of the American people — that freedom is the God-given right of every human being and that America is the hope for freedom-loving people all over the world. And I’m sure that there are people who live in servitude and degradation and oppression around the world who will be encouraged and given renewed hope by President Bush’s proclamation that when they stand for freedom they have a friend in the United States of America.

“I thought the president gave a speech that should inspire our nation by reminding us of who we are and where we’ve been and laying out a path of where that means we should go,” said Land, who was in the audience for the ceremony.

As often characterizes the president’s major speeches, this one included references to God and religion. Bush grounded the universal rights of mankind in America’s belief from its founding that people “bear the image of the Maker of Heaven and earth.” He said Americans have confidence freedom will eventually triumph because it is the “permanent hope of mankind,” not because it is inevitable or because the United States considers itself a “chosen nation; God moves and chooses as He wills.” The president said character is sustained by “the truths of Sinai, the Sermon on the Mount, the words of the Koran, and the varied faiths of our people.”

Luis Leon, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, and Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, prayed during the ceremony.

A prayer service attended by the president and his family, as well as others, was held at St. John’s prior to the inauguration. When they are in Washington on Sunday, the president and his wife, Laura, normally attend St. John’s, which is near the White House.

Bush was sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, whose weakened appearance and voice demonstrated the effects of treatments for his thyroid cancer. Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House of Representatives, swore in Vice President Dick Cheney.

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