Thanksgiving in 2020 is different for many reasons, but this year also marks a noteworthy occasion of great significance: the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Pilgrims’ arrival in America. 

Four hundred years ago, a rugged group of Protestant separatists – those fleeing religious persecution and seeking freedom of worship outside the only legal church at the time, the Church of England – sacrificed their lives in pursuit of a new world where they, their families, and future generations could worship freely. 

The Pilgrims’ story is one of deep faith, bravery, perseverance, and yes – thanksgiving. 

The Pilgrims did not come to conquer or plunder. They came for freedom. And the system of self-governance they established with a deep commitment to religious freedom laid the foundation for what would become the United States of America – though not without flaws, the freest, most prosperous nation in the history of the world and a beacon for religious liberty. 

Included in this group of Mayflower passengers is my own ancestor, William Brewster, who served as Ruling Elder for the Pilgrims and offered the prayer at what would come to be known as the first Thanksgiving in 1621.

Despite the well-known story of the Mayflower Pilgrims, including the peace treaty they formed with the native Wampanoag people that lasted for more than 50 years and the foundational pillars of freedom and self-governance they established, attempts to undermine the story of the Pilgrims and their significance on our country continue seeping into mainstream cultural and educational narratives. 

For example, The New York Times recently called the story of the Pilgrims a “myth” and a “caricature.”

Senator Tom Cotton, speaking on the floor of the United States Senate, lamented how the Pilgrims “have fallen out of favor in fashionable circles these days.” 

Revisionist efforts to turn the story of the Pilgrims into a footnote of history that should be forgotten or shamed stems not from a desire to tell an accurate account of history but from a progressive, secular humanist ideology that cannot afford room for belief, let alone celebration, of religious freedom and adherence to God. 

We are witnessing growing contempt for the Pilgrims and their relation to the Thanksgiving holiday because they are innately and inseparably connected not only to faith, family, and freedom, but also to the idea that there is a higher power which our rights come from.

Just as prayer and thanksgiving require recognition of a higher authority, religious freedom recognizes that certain rights come from God, not government, and that government exists to secure those rights, not create them. 

As Senator Cotton concluded in his remarks, “This year we ought to be especially thankful for our ancestors, the Pilgrims, on their four hundredth anniversary. Their faith, their bravery, their wisdom places them in the American pantheon.  Alongside the Patriots of 1776, the Pilgrims of 1620 deserve the honor of American founders.”

Rather than passively accepting secular progressives’ attempts to tear down, ignore, and flat-out rewrite our nation’s history and foundational principles, we must not only remember the story of the Pilgrims but commit ourselves to their same voyage for government by consent, equality before the law, and religious freedom. 

This starts with celebrating and passing down the truth about the Pilgrims and their role in creating America, and fighting to preserve the same freedom that the Pilgrims came to find on American soil. 

In doing so, we can reaffirm our nation’s commitment to recognizing and upholding religious freedom as the key that holds together all freedoms for all people. 

“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” – Psalm 27:13-14 

Nate Grasz

Nate Grasz

Policy Director
Nate is the Policy Director at Nebraska Family Alliance and host of the Capitol Report program.