On Friday, Nov. 6th, I had the opportunity to represent the Indianapolis Bar Association at a very special naturalization ceremony that was conducted at the site of the 39th annual Indy International Festival. One hundred ninety five individuals from 62 countries took the oath of citizenship that day and became newly minted United States citizens.
To say that it was a joyous occasion would be an understatement. Smiles and tears of joy were abundant, and almost all were dressed in their finest suits and dresses befitting the occasion. It was particularly noteworthy that many wore the native garb of their countries of origin, and all stood proudly as their native countries were listed. The ages of the inductees ranged from 18 to 90. There was no finer example of the “melting pot” that is our United States of America.
I am a sentimental person, so about any occasion will produce a tear in the eye. This occasion was no exception. However, I was surprised that the aspect of the ceremony that moved me the most were the words of U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt. Just before she administered the oath of citizenship to the inductees she took the opportunity to welcome them and to advise them. Here are the words she shared:
“As Congressman Andre Carson stated, you have had trials and tribulations. As citizens of this great country, you will encounter challenges and struggles; as we all do, that’s just a part of life. But, you are also going to encounter unbridled freedom and opportunity. I sincerely believe that there is more opportunity in this country than any other place in the world.
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 Buddhist, a Muslim or you may adhere to any other religion or no religion at all.
You may hear voices in this land say 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. If you want to listen and adhere to the principles and policies that you hear about from presidential candidates like Donald Trump or Jeb Bush or if you are leaning to the philosophies and policies of candidates like Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders – it does not matter … the decision is yours.
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 as you choose. The values and beliefs of American culture vary and your values and beliefs may be shared by many or shared by few. Simply stated, there is no single American way to think or believe. Conformity of thought and belief would be contrary to the underlying principles of this great nation.”
Judge Walton Pratt went on to describe how she had never dreamed that she would one day be an Article III federal judge holding a position appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. She likewise reflected that Congressman Andre Carson probably did not dream as a little boy that he, a Muslim citizen, would one day be a member of Congress. She encouraged the inductees to embrace the opportunities and possibilities of America, and she assured them that the American Dream is “still very much alive” if you work for it.
After the oath of citizenship had been administered, several of us had the chance to address the group and their families. I informed them that the members of the Indianapolis Bar Association had taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution just as they had done. I made sure that they knew that we lawyers, judges, paralegals and law students of the IndyBar are here to protect their rights and to assure them of a fair and just judicial system. As I spoke to them, the words of Judge Walton Pratt resonated in my head. I cannot remember ever feeling greater fervor to protect the rights of citizenship than I did right at that moment. My only regret was that all of you could not be there at that moment to hear and witness the minting of new U.S. citizens and the affirmation of their newly received rights as Americans.
At the close of the ceremony, I had the chance to shake the hand of each new citizen and to give them a booklet with the Indiana and U.S. constitutions. The booklet has the name of the Indianapolis Bar Association and the Indianapolis Bar Foundation displayed on the front cover. I made sure in my remarks that every one of them knew where to find us if they needed us. Let’s hope they don’t need us, but if they do, let’s be prepared to represent them whether they can afford to pay us or not. Let’s show them that what Judge Walton Pratt told them is true.
If you get a chance to attend a naturalization ceremony, be sure to go. You will leave a changed person. I know that I am.