Well, this is certainly a different kind of post for me. But this 4th of July celebration falls upon a week of much uproar over the Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. At the heart of the fall out is basically disagreement regarding individual rights and religious freedom. There have been plenty of posts dissecting, analyzing, supporting, castigating or otherwise blasting the decision. To be sure, there has been over-the-top fact-twisting rhetoric amid some calmer, knowledgeable and more insightful pieces on this decision. So much has been written so there is no need to add to that pot.
But the uproar over the case does make me reflect on what it says about where we are as a country. At the same time July 4th gives us opportunity to reflect on who we were established to be as a country. And I find the contrast kind of ironic. Why do I say that? July 4th is a commemoration of colonists declaration of independence from Britain. It was a group of people who said no to government tyranny and its ability to rule over the conscience of the people.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
As the precursor to the Constitution, the Declaration insisted that a country established on freedom must uphold that freedom at whatever costs, hence, the Revolutionary War. A close examination of the historical events that led up to establishment of this historic document reveals that “live, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” was not some kind of whatever makes us feel good happiness, but the ability to live as free citizens, engaged with free speech and free trade. To be sure, economics was at the heart of freedom. The colonists were saying no to government intrusion on commerce, no to taxation without representation and no to government monopolies that weakened the fabric of commerce. Religious liberty was also at the heart of freedom: the ability for citizens to not be controlled by government on how they were to worship and to not be coerced into decisions that violated their conscience, especially where commerce was involved.
We’ve come so far…
1) We have strayed away from our constitutional roots. The cry has been that religious freedom promotes intolerance and denial of healthcare (even though that isn’t true) and therefore is an evil imposed on citizens. Religious liberty seems to be so repulsive to many is something that should be expelled in favor of government mandates on how business should make decisions, even if it violates the conscience of business owners. This is just the opposite of what the colonists intended and pursued.
2) We have built a sense of entitlement. We have cried to the government give us more and if that’s not satisfactory then we promote special interest efforts to bend the will until we get what we want. If the founding fathers were alive today, I kept wondering what their reaction would be to the uproar about the right to have employers pay for certain drugs that a Christian conscience deems to violate the Creator. I imagine some facepalms, grieved faces and maybe even some swear words. For some reason, we have placed a considerable weight of responsibility on the government to be all things to all people and provide for us whatever it is we think we need. The fabric of American government was supposed to release individual pursuit of happiness not be the source of it.
3) We have twisted the meaning of freedom. Well, I’ve already said that, but it bears repeating. Freedom had a particular context and intent. It was not an imposition on whatever we are against because we feel entitled to it, but to those unalienable rights endowed by the Creator. Having your employer pay for healthcare, while an excellent benefit, is not one of them.
Surely, there are significant events that led us to where we are and there are a lot of complexities. And yes, we still enjoy freedoms that other countries do not. We can still say this is a great country. But the growing collective cry that screams for government tyranny makes this Independence Day feel not so independent.