November 22, 2012
The relationship between Thanksgiving and the First Amendment's religion clauses, as well as to the economy, is a recurrent topic of constitutional conversation at this time of year.
President Obama's Thanksgiving Proclamation for 2012 includes several references to "God," such as:
"On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence."
The President has been criticized in the past for not including sufficient mentions of "God" in conjunction with Thanksgiving.
When President George Washington marked our democracy's first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break.
The current President does not mention FDR, the president responsible for Thanksgiving being the second to last Thursday - - - rather than the last - - - for economic reasons. According to the National Archives:
In 1939, however, the last Thursday in November fell on the last day of the month. Concerned that the shortened Christmas shopping season might dampen the economic recovery, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued a Presidential Proclamation moving Thanksgiving to the second to last Thursday of November. As a result of the proclamation, 32 states issued similar proclamations while 16 states refused to accept the change and proclaimed Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November. For two years two days were celebrated as Thanksgiving - the President and part of the nation celebrated it on the second to last Thursday in November, while the rest of the country celebrated it the following week.
Meanwhile, there is controversy about so-called "blue laws" banning the opening of stores on Thanksgiving day itself. Recall that the United States Supreme Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice Earl Warren, rejected the First Amendment challenges and upheld a criminal conviction under a Sunday blue law in McGowan v. Maryland, 366 U.S. 420 (1961).
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