This weekend we will be celebrating our nation's independence. Independence Day recognizes the home of the brave and land of the free on the birthday of the United States of America and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It's a day of picnics, parades, a night of concerts and fireworks, and a reason to fly the American flag. But what does "independence" really mean to each of us today?
Is it just an extra long holiday weekend full of fun and fireworks or do we take time to appreciate the sacrifices of our forefathers remembering their bravery, service and commitment to fight for and expand freedoms for all Americans? The freedoms we enjoy today continue to be reaffirmed and renewed throughout our 235 year history through wars, civil strife, and political victories. Our nation continues to evolve and redefine the word "independence," but like most things in this country there always seems to be more than one side to its definition.
Is "independence," merely the fact that we control our own borders and are not governed by a foreign nation or is "independence" more about the freedoms provided by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through our society and culture here in America? While the US is far from perfect our nation is stilled envied around the world as thousands flock to our borders annually and nations around the globe attempt to emulate what's been created here.
As a nation of free people the definitions of "freedom" and "independence," will continue to seek new limits. Last week the state of New York gave gay and lesbian couples the legal right to marry. While many applaud that legislation, others are outraged at the actions of our elected officials. Does it uplift and provide a level standing for all committed couples or does it diminish the act of marriage between a man and a woman? Will religious institutions respect the decree of the state or will they refuse to conduct services for same sex couples? Public opinion and political correctness aside this new found freedom will be forced to undergo the test of time.
Last year one of the major controversies in New York City and around the nation stemmed from the construction of a mosque near the site of the World Trader Towers. While the owners of the building were free to do as they wished with their building the public and political outcry was more than enough to finally sway their plans. What's considered free to one person can easily be considered offensive or even criminal to another person, depending on your perspective gained from life experiences. Prior to 9/11 there would have been little opposition to the plan, but afterward attitudes changed.
Throughout history we continue to celebrate our freedom, but as a people we have always required terms to access its privileges. In the 1920's the government outlawed the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor. It led to the first and only time an Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed, which happened 13 years later. While President Lincoln freed the slaves in 1863 which gave them the right to vote few made it to the polls as whites found ways to limit their access to vote. In 1866 Congress passed a civil rights bill granting citizenship to anyone born in the US...... except Native Americans. It took until 1920 for women to earn the right to vote and it was 1924 before Native Americans were declared citizens and 1944 before they could vote in an open election. Today what would seem common sense rights took years to accomplish and attitudes to change. Is it fear of the unknown, is it bias or is it simply that the next generation sees things differently than those who may have lived through an experience?
If history has proven anything it has been that new freedoms don't get accepted by society with the same open arms that we profess to celebrate on the 4th. Something so offensive to many of us as burning the American flag, is a freedom we must all be willing to accept and defend. Let's face it we all want control over our lives, actions and property. While your elected officials legislate what freedoms we can exercise and what we are not free to do, it's our culture, over time, that resolves these inequities within our borders and seeks to provide a level playing field, but it does take time for these changes to take root. Look back at how blacks were once treated or Japanese Americans during World War II. By today's standards many may be appalled by those actions, but had you lived through that period first hand, you might have a different perspective.
So when you're celebrating this July 4th or watching a magnificent fireworks display remember this, freedom is as much about your personal freedoms as it is about tolerance, understanding and respect for others who also long to be free. Life is so short and fleeting is it worth fighting and stressing out today over something that in a few short years may end up being considered common place? Let's make certain the battles we wage are in the defense of freedom and not just the opposition to change.
Dan Alexander is publisher and owner of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.