If you're still upset over the injection of conservative "moral values," into this year's election you can thank the Puritans this Thanksgiving, a contribution for which they are better-remembered.

Although the Puritans fled to the New World for freedom of religion, their goal was freedom to practice their religion, not necessarily to let others practice theirs. And the belief that America was chosen by God for a special place in history quickly became an article of the Puritans' faith.

''In our culture, we have this strong belief that the American nation has a divinely ordained purpose, a contract with God, to play a pre-eminent role in human history,'' David Adams, a professor emeritus at Ohio State University's Lima campus, has noted. ''The Puritans regarded themselves as a second chosen people and believed themselves to be lineal descendants of the Hebrews. . . . That made North America the promised land.''

''Americans are not just patriotic,'' Adams added. ''They practice patriotic piety, an assertion that the American nation is special in God's eyes'' -- so special that its current leaders believe they can spread the American brand of freedom at gunpoint abroad.

The concept of ''civil religion'' permeates American life, especially its political life, whether we like it or not.

''A good case can be made that references to God are expected in political speech-making, especially during important speeches like inaugural or State of the Union addresses,'' Adams said in an interview several years ago. Every inaugural address given by a president thus far has included a reference to God, and you can bet that President Bush's second one this January will be full of them. This is a man, after all, who reportedly believes he was chosen to be president by the supreme being rather than the Supreme Court.

But America's civil religion goes way beyond the moral posturing of George W. Bush. The United States even has its own sacred texts, such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the Gettysburg Address. And one controversial theory suggests America has its own Moses (George Washington) who led the country out of the wilderness and Christ figure (Abraham Lincoln) who was sacrificed to bring temporal salvation, just as Christ was sacrificed to bring spiritual salvation.

On the positive side, OSU's Adams attributes Americans' much greater intolerance of scandals than people in most other countries to our civic religion. ''We are concerned about our ethics because we believe as a country that God has chosen us. We don't want to break our covenant with God,'' he said.

But that may all depends on who the sinner is and the kind of sin. The modern Puritans almost forced President Clinton from the White House for having an affair that some of his supporters believe his foes drove him into with their relentless attacks on his character. When it comes to a true believer like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, however, House Republicans just ditched a rule requiring members of their leadership to step aside temporarily if they are indicted, which Delay soon may be on charges he illegally used corporate money to help Republicans win key Texas legislative races in 2002. That, in turn, resulted in a congressional redistricting scheme that helped the GOP win additional seats Texas this year and solidify DeLay's hold on power.

The Puritans may have been religious and believed they were the chosen people, but that, contrary myth, didn't keep them from having sexual fun outside the "sanctity of marriage." Sex in Middlesex, a book by British social historian Roger Thompson reveals that some prurient Puritans participated in a wide range of extramarital, premarital, deviant and abusive sexual behavior.

In other words, the Puritans of old were hypocrites, just as the Puritans of today often turn out to be.