Ladies and gentlemen, it is my privilege to be the first to congratulate you on your new citizenship. A little later this morning I will again congratulate each of you personally when I present you your certificate of citizenship, and I certainly look forward to that.
I realize that for many of you a difficult part of the oath of allegiance you just took is the part where you renounced allegiance to any foreign state or sovereignty. I wish to remind you that what you solemnly renounced in that oath is allegiance to the government of another land. You did not renounce, nor should you ever renounce, the devotion you carry in your heart for the people of your native land. Preserve that always.
And for the benefit of your children and your grandchildren, as well as your own benefit, I suggest that you master the English language– learn it well–but also preserve your native language and heritage and culture. Doing so enriches not only the lives of those in your family–doing so also enriches America and all of us living here. For over 200 years this country has been blessed with a constant infusion of new people from all over the world who brought their languages, their heritages and their cultural values with them. Today it is you who so bless us.
Now I wish to speak about you as United States citizens, which you now are.
You may hear voices in this land say that there is only one true American religion. Do not believe it. As an American you may freely and openly be a Christian, a Jew, a Hindu, a Bhuddist, a Muslim, or you may adhere to any other religion, or you may be an agnostic or an atheist.
You may hear voices in this land say that there is only one true American way to think and believe about political matters, economic matters, and social matters. Do not believe it. As an American you may freely and openly adhere to political, economic and social views on the right, on the left, or anywhere in between. You may hear voices in this land say that there is only one true American set of values. Do not believe it. As an American you may openly hold beliefs and values greatly different from those of others–even if those of others are shared by many and yours are shared by few.
Simply stated, there is no single American way to think or believe. Indeed, conformity of thought and belief would be contrary to the underlying principles of this great nation.
The late A. Bartlett Giamatti, who served as President of Yale University in the early 1980’s, in his welcoming address to the freshman class at Yale in 1981, spoke of “The Legitimacy of Differentness” that is so vital to our American Society. Dr. Giamatti warned the Yale freshmen about, to use his words, “A radical assault on the very pluralism–of peoples, political beliefs, values, forms of merit and systems of religion–our country was founded to welcome and foster.” Dr. Giamatti went on to say: “People of different ethnic groups and races and adherents of various religious and political and personal beliefs have a right to coexist as equals under the law, and have an obligation to forge the freedoms they enjoy into a coherent, civilized and vigilant whole.”
I believe that Dr. Giamatti’s words on that occasion are well worth remembering on this occasion. And I believe that it is also well worth remembering that the courts of this land are here to protect and preserve your right as Americans to freely and openly think and believe as you wish, and to be different.
I welcome you to citizenship, and I rejoice in the enrichment that each of you brings to our land.