This past week, we celebrated our nation’s independence and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It’s a week of picnics, parades, a night of concerts and fireworks, and a reason to fly the American flag. But what does “independence” really mean in today’s ever-changing and fast-paced world?
The freedoms we enjoy today continue to be reaffirmed and renewed as our nation evolves and redefines 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? While the U.S. is far from perfect, our nation is still 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 Supreme Court affirmed gay and lesbian couples the legal right to marry by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. While many applaud that legislation, others are outraged at the actions of our elected officials.
Other major issues around the nation in the midst of refinement include late-term abortions, voters’ rights and immigration. What’s considered free to one person can easily be considered offensive or criminal to another person. Public opinion and political correctness aside, this new-found freedom will be forced to undergo the test of time.
Throughout history, we’ve seen changes in our freedoms. In the 1920s, 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 It led to the first and only time an amendment to the U.S. Constitution was repealed, 13 years later.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 U.S. … except Native Americans. It took until 1920 for women to earn the right to vote. It was 1924 before Native Americans were declared citizens and 1944 before they could vote in an open election. Today, human rights that would seem common sense took years to accomplish and for attitudes to change. Is it a fear of the unknown, bias or simply that the next generation sees things differently than those who may have lived through an experience?
Take a look at Food Network star Paula Dean, attempting to explain actions taken 50 years ago when attitudes were very different than today. By today’s standards it’s unthinkable to justify those actions, but it was very different 50 years ago.
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 July 4. 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.
So when you’re celebrating this independence weekend or watching a magnificent fireworks display, remember that freedom is as much about your personal freedoms as it is about tolerance, understanding and respect for others who long to be free. Life is so short and fleeting, is it worth fighting and stressing out today over something that in a few years may end up being considered commonplace? Let’s make certain the battles we wage are in the defense of freedom and not just the opposition to change.
Dan Alexander is associate publisher of New Market Press and publisher and CEO of Denton Publications. He may be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.