Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Freedom and Responsibility

It is almost July 4 once again.  Independence Day is also a name for it, of course.  Independence from Great Britain, with whom we now share a close relationship but back in the late 1700s we were really put out at our cousins across the pond.  Our ancestors who were here in those days decided that they could not put up with all the abuse and mistreatment they were experiencing at the hands of the Monarch--that King George--so they said, "Jolly Good that we just begin a new experiement and call it America!" or something like that.  They got out their muskets and rallied around the flag (thank you Betsy Ross) and got moving.  Now, I may not have all the factors in historical order but you all know the story.  America became the great "Idea" that all Americans would rally around and get behind.

When you begin to reflect upon what is the common thing that binds all Americans together, it is not race or ethnic heritage or even language, even though we claim to speak English as our common tongue, but we are bound together by an idea that our country can be what it is despite all the other differences.  We are a melting pot or tossed salad of cultures and languages and backgrounds and everyone is welcome here because no one factor is required of persons here in order for them to stay.  Yes, non native born persons must go through the process to become citizens but even after becoming citizens it is okay if they speak another language besides English or if they eat the foods common to their native land or if they practice a religion that they practiced before they came to our shores.  We just want everyone to fit it and get along and live peaceably with one another. 

Sometimes we do not agree with what a judge or politician or clergyperson says and in our country we have the right to disagree if we desire.  We can post our views on Facebook and tell others our opinion with no fear that the secret police will storm into our house in the middle of the night and arrest us because of our views.  Freedom of speech and freedom of religion give us the right to assemble and say what we wish and allow others that same right.

However, in recent months some in our land have begun to categorize entire groups of people as being evil or undesirable because they may speak a different language or dress differently or practice a different religion.  These persons lump together everyone that shares a common characteristic and brands them as "radical" or "demonic" or "undesirable" not giving each individual within the group the right to prove oneself as individuals despite the commonalities they may share with others in their group.  It seems like only a few years ago that there were persons treated this same way based upon their skin color.  They were made to use separate restroom facilities and drink at separate water fountains and not be present at places where persons of the dominant skin color were present.  The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s helped to change all that because of the courage of some persons to speak out at a time when the prevailing attitudes needed changing. 

Today, there are many of us who attempt to live in such a manner as to see all persons as persons of worth.  We attempt to accept all persons for the individuals they are without categorizing them based upon a factor that some would use to demonize them.  If America truly is a land of freedom, then it has to be a land of freedom for all persons.  All who live here must be afforded the same rights as others including freedom of religion and freedom of speech.  Persons who practice a religion that is not one that we would practice must be allowed the freedom to worship as they choose.  Our Constitution guarantees all the freedom of religion and freedom from religion. 

America is a good land but there are often people who want to shape it so that it fits into a mold that they prescribe.  These people want to define who is an American based upon criteria that they choose.  We are Americans because we believe in the Idea called America.  We are people of many races and languages and cultures and religions but we belong to one another because we see this as the land that best fulfills what we think life should be like. 

Katharine Lee Bates made it to the top of Pikes Peak back in the 1800s, the story is says, and when she looked out over the vast plains below here, she was inspired to write the words that we sing "America, the Beautiful".  The last stanza of this beautiful song says, "O beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears.  America, America, God shed his grace on thee, and crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea."  This stanza reflects the idea that those patriots who fought for freedom from tyranny had a common dream, a dream of brotherhood that would unite us all.  That dream continues...a dream of love of neighbor that transcends the differences that we may have with one another.  The dream is alive in the land we call America and it is a dream that we all share, regardless of any other factor that we may possess. 

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