Land That I Love: Part II - Freedom
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” - Galatians 5:1
These words were written by the Apostle Paul to the Christian believers at Galatia. I suggest that a similar statement could be made to the people of the United States of America: “It is for freedom that the founding fathers declared our independence.” If you’ve never read that document, or haven’t read it recently, I encourage you to do so. It is brimming with rich, powerful, candid words, phrases, and concepts: self-evident truths, equality of man, endowment by the Creator, unalienable Rights, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And that’s just from one sentence. The entire focus of the document is freedom. Freedom from a government that refused to assent to laws; that hindered free election of officials, bribed judges, and denied legal rights and protections; that used the military to control and manipulate citizens and looked the other way to its abuses; and that levied unjust taxes. And that’s just a sample.
Or read the Constitution. It’s long, and the language isn’t always easy to digest. But sometimes it’s good to have to think a little when we read, even to have to look up the definition of a word. Particularly, check out the Bill of Rights. The founding fathers were very clear about giving the citizens of the newly forged country the freedom to worship who or what, how, and if they pleased, the freedom to speak their mind—even to the government—on any topic, the freedom to protect themselves, the freedom from an oppressive military, the freedom of privacy, the freedom of a legal system set up in their favor and providing every opportunity for accused persons to defend themselves, and the freedom from an exhaustive set of rules and regulations (see the Tenth Amendment).
America is known as the “land of the free.” One of our greatest symbols is the Statue of Liberty. America is nothing if not free. The colonists originally came to the “New World” because of religious oppression. They wanted to worship God without the king dictating the terms of that worship. Now in America, you have the freedom to believe any religion or none. You can worship God or not. You can go to church or go to brunch or go back to bed. You can give your money to church or charity or keep it for yourself. You can even worship a tree, the sun, or a bowl of spaghetti if you so choose. Or you can worship yourself alone. The government has no legal grounds to dictate one way or the other.
Or take political freedom. You get to vote. Just let that sink in for a moment. You--you!—get a say in how your country is run. It’s a small say, admittedly, one that in and of itself won’t accomplish much. But you are part of the process. If you think that’s inconsequential, talk to someone who has lived in Iraq under a dictator like Saddam, or in a Communist regime, or in a poor country governed by feuding warlords. The rafts between Cuba and Miami have always been heading north.
Beyond voting, you get to voice your dissent. You can be critical of your elected officials. Log on to Twitter. President Barack Obama gets eviscerated by his opponents. Had social media seen similar popularity during the George W. Bush administration, imagine the venom that would have been spewed by his detractors. You can call the president names, question his heritage, lampoon him with social media memes and cartoons—all without being thrown into a windowless prison or under the blade of the guillotine. You can protest a war you believe is unjust, organize a march against oppression—perceived or real—and campaign on TV, in the press, online, or in a public square for the candidate of your choice. You can even burn the flag, the very symbol of the freedom that allows you to do so, with impunity. The words of President Thomas Jefferson two centuries ago are just as practical today: “How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on earth enjoy!”1
Legally, you’re granted unparalleled rights and liberties. An accused man or woman is lawfully declared innocent until proven guilty instead of the other way around. Even the most heinous of criminals are given the benefit of the doubt and provided due process, lest there be a miscarriage of justice. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “It is better one hundred guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer.”2 Agree or disagree with his sentiment, it is that idea that was infused into the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, in direct contrast to an English monarchy that provided almost no legal rights, instead relegating the fate of the accused to the whims of the ruling class.
In America, freedom is not based on skin color, gender, age, social status, or religious or political beliefs. Yes, there have been deficiencies along the way. Yes, some still exist. America isn’t perfect. Never has been, never will be. But like that symbol in the New York Harbor, America holds high a torch to light the way. I love that America would allow a black man to become president, even if I disagree with his beliefs and ideology. I love that America allows you and I to disagree about that president’s policies, vehemently at times. I love that America doesn’t prohibit me from succeeding because I come from a lower middle class family, just like it doesn’t grant you automatic success if you are born into wealth or prosperity. In America, a black man from a poor, inner city family can become a successful neurosurgeon, author, and potential presidential candidate like Dr. Ben Carson. In America, Andrew Carnegie and John Rockefeller can go from poverty so extreme that, according to Carnegie, he would sleep to “forget the misery of hunger,” to founding corporations worth billions of dollars. In America, Ursula Burns grew up in the gang-infested projects of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, raised by a single-mother who had immigrated from Panama, before becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. These are just a few of thousands of similar tales. In America, you can write your own story, because you have freedom to do so. You have freedom to pursue the level of education you want, work where you want and as hard as you want, and live or travel where you want. No, it might not be easy. It might be near impossible because of certain circumstances. But people like Dr. Carson and Ursula Burns show it is possible. Icons like Carnegie and Rockefeller demonstrate the pursuit of happiness provided by life and liberty. In America, the rights and freedoms are in place. The rest is up to you.
The founding fathers clearly expressed the belief that they did not create these rights and freedoms. Instead, they deemed them “unalienable Rights” that exist whether the founding fathers, the current form of government, or this or that president recognize them, because they are not granted by the government. They are granted by an Almighty God. The purpose of the Constitution was not to create a form of government that would levy certain rights and freedoms, for that would not truly be freedom. Rather, it was to restrict as much as feasibly possible that government, thus opening the channel through which those rights and freedoms could flow.
There will always be an incompleteness to America’s freedom because the nature of man is to restrict freedom. We fight a constant battle against oppression that would seek to hinder and constrain and eradicate liberty. Look at history. Look at Hitler, Ho Chi Minh, or Hussein. Or tune in to the nightly news and watch how ISIS oppresses the people of Iraq and Syria or the plight of the North Koreans under Kim Jong-un.
It is for freedom that the founding fathers declared our independence. It is for freedom that the minutemen took arms against an overwhelming British army. It is for freedom that President Lincoln and the Union Army fought the Civil War. It is for freedom our fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers—even our great, great grandfathers—fought two World Wars. It is for freedom that our friends and loved ones are stationed around the globe to this day. It is for freedom that they have bled and died, coming home broken or not at all. It is therefore our duty—and it was recognized by the founding fathers as such—to preserve and protect that freedom with our final breath.
“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” - President Ronald Reagan
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
1. Letter to James Monroe. Paris, June 17, 1785.
2. Smyth, Albert H. The Writings of Benjamin Franklin. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1905-1907.