Tying his plan for religious charities to the best hopes of the founding fathers, President Bush urged Congress on Wednesday to allow government funds to flow to churches, mosques and synagogues that seek to ease social woes.
As the nation celebrated America's 225th birthday Wednesday with parades, fireworks and barbecues, Bush said in a speech in front of Independence Hall that "these soldiers in the armies of compassion deserve our support. They often need our support. And, by taking their side, we act in the best tradition of our country."
Bush proposes that churches, synagogues and other religious groups be able to compete for government contracts in social services without stripping the religious elements from their programs. The plan has met with deep skepticism on Capitol Hill, where some critics say it could erode the separation of church and state.
If the Declaration of Independence's signers were alive today, Bush said, they would be pleased to see the religious liberties they cherished at work every day in religious institutions that feed the hungry, treat the addicted and give love to alienated children.
"Our founders would . . . find, amid the problems of modern life, a familiar American spirit of faith and good works," Bush said. "They would see the signs of poverty and want, but also acts of great kindness and charity."
Bush dismissed criticisms of his proposal, saying it merely builds on the ideals that the nation's founding fathers articulated 225 years ago.
"America's founding documents give us religious liberty in principle," Bush said. "These Americans show us religious liberty in action."
Religious freedom, he said, "is more than the right to believe in God's love. It is the right to be an instrument of God's love. Such work is beyond the reach of government and beyond the role of government."
A small group of protesters jeered Bush's remarks.
Before his speech at Independence Hall, Bush and his wife, Laura, went to the Greater Exodus Baptist Church, where the president played touch football with young people at an "urban block party" for children and families who participate in mentoring programs run by various churches or religious charities.
Bush left the church with Philadelphia Mayor John Street, hugging singers in a choir and taking a turn daubing red paint on a mural that children were painting. The mural showed patriotic scenes with American flags.
Bush was among the judges of a slam-dunk contest and then wished everyone "a great Fourth of July. I want to thank all the adults who are telling the children they love them."
Elsewhere, revelers grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, camped out for the best seats for fireworks displays, and enjoyed a day off from work.
Thousands of immigrants marked the holiday by embracing their new home.
On board the Constitution in Boston Harbor, 19 immigrants were sworn in as American citizens.
Leila Nessralla, who moved from Lebanon in 1996, said she was drawn to citizenship by her desire to vote, as well as a desire to be just like her children.
"I have two daughters that are American; now nothing separates us," she said.
Parades also were a popular way to mark the holiday.
Atlanta's parade grand marshal was Navy Lt. Shane Osborn, the pilot of a spy plane that collided with a Chinese fighter jet and crash-landed in April.
"It's good to be back in the United States," said Osborn, who with his 23 crew members was held in China for 11 days.
Overseas, American revelers in the Middle East at beach barbecues and garden parties, rock concerts and embassy receptions were mindful of their government's warning to be especially careful because of the threat of terrorism.
The State Department warning on June 22 followed the issuing of indictments in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, which killed 19 Americans in Saudi Arabia. The warning said "Americans should maintain a low profile."