What It Means to Be American

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Americans strongly affirm the principles of religious freedom, religious tolerance, and separation of church and state. Nearly 9-in-10 (88 percent) Americans agree that America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular. Ninety-five percent of Americans agree that all religious books should be treated with respect even if we don’t share the religious beliefs of those who use them. Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans agree that we must maintain a strict separation of church and state. Americans’ views of Muslims and Islam are mixed, however. As with other previously marginalized religious groups in U.S. history, Americans are grappling with the questions Islam poses to America’s founding principles and way of life.

To be an American to me means that we are free and are so fortunate to even have many of things that we actually have. We are fortunate to have a government where they look out for every one of us, and try to do what is in the best interest of our country. Being an American is awesome because we have a society that is willing to help people who are not as fortunate as some of the others. America is willing to help us and let us make our own choices, choose members of our own government that is going to protect us, and coming together with other citizens to help out others and our country.

As we contemplate the inauguration of Barack Obama from here in Kigali, Rwanda, we have been thinking about what it means to us as Americans abroad. We're also seeing what the inauguration means to Africans who are viewing it at a remove, but who may feel for the first time that they have a stake in American politics. As a result, we are trying to convey to colleagues and partners here in Rwanda what it means to be American, and what Obama's inauguration means to America. At times, we may have struggled to explain this, but I think my friend and co-worker Karen Schmidt --...
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