|Marking the Fourth of July
As we approach the last Independence Day of this century, it is important to remember the good ... and the bad
4 July 1999
As millions of people prepare to mark the 223rd anniversary of the year of our independence with the traditional roadtrips, baseball games and BBQs, I want to reflect on the state of America on this anniversary. Even as people celebrate their freedoms, others are slowly whittling away at the liberties that we all cherish.
During the past year, we witnessed one of the greatest challenges to the United States. The impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton. Even as Republicans claimed to uphold the Constitution, they placed the President of the United States on trial for strictly political reasons (spare me the argument that Clintons actions constituted "high crimes and misdemeanors"). Despite their own disgust at Clintons actions, the American people had the good sense to see through the rhetoric of the Republicans and push for the trial to be dismissed. Because the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to remove a president from office, a national crisis was averted.
After the latest constitutional crisis, members of Congress have passed a resolution allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public buildings, passed a flag-desecration amendment and buckled under the lobbying pressures of gun-makers and supporters. The sheer number of violations of the Constitution seems to be baffling.
All of these threats seem to fly in the face of the progress that the nation has made in the past 200 years. The justification allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools is horribly baffling. The backers of the proposition in Congress claim that the mere posting of this religious document would set the nation on a more "moral" course. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Geo.) claimed that if the Ten Commandments were posted in Littleton, Colo., the Columbine High School tragedy might have not happened.
This claim is a fanciful ignorance of reality -- simply posting a piece of paper will not solve the nations ills. I wanted to write Barr and ask him point-blank, "If the Ten Commandments were posted in government buildings, would you have not committed adultery against your wife?" The answer should be obvious.
The simple fact of the matter is that by allowing the posting of the Ten Commandments in schools is a du jour acceptance of Judeo-Christian religions to the exclusion of others. This is most definitely a violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution that proclaims that "Congress shall make no laws respecting the establishment of religion, or the free practice thereof...."
Looking at the flag-desecration amendment, one sees similar hypocrisies. In honor to protect the freedoms that the American flag symbolizes, people are willing to restrict the freedom of speech by banning the desecration of the flag (including flag burning). It is obvious that certain people would take the text of the amendment and use it to abuse others. One reporter noted that in the 1960s, police officers wearing American flags would arrest protesters wearing American flags for desecration. This hypocrisy would most likely be reproduced in the future.
I called the office of my representative, Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) and asking him (in reality, one of his staff) about this horrible assault on free speech that Cunningham introduced in the House this year. I asked Cunninghams staff member about how strictly the flag-desecration amendment would be enforced. What could you burn and still not be arrested? Could citizens burn pictures, cloth representations of flags, anything that isnt the real cloth flag? The staff member didnt know those answers. After a brief pause, the staff member reluctantly agreed that it was still acceptable to burn congressional representatives in effigy.
These assaults on America would have seemed consistent if Congress had the guts to pass strong gun-safety restrictions theoretically restricting a persons right to bear arms. Still, it seems that the National Rifle Assoc. and the gun lobby was able to retain their stranglehold over congresspeople despite public outcries for tougher regulations after the high-profile school shootings during the past year. It seems that conservative element is more interested in pursuing their own agendas and their fundraising than they do for the Constitution of the United States and the well-being of her people.
It may not be enjoyable compared to watching MTV, but we must not stand silently as our representatives slowly take away peoples rights and freedoms. Even if their actions seem to affect only a minority of Americas population, the repercussions will affect all citizens.
Of course, these battles have been fought before -- when our Founding Fathers declared their independence from the tyrannical British more than 200 years ago, the freedoms that they desired were only for white, property-holding, Christian men. Thanks to the clarity of the Founders ideals, though not necessarily their intentions, the doors of America have been slowly forced opened to accept others.
The battle to create liberty for all has been a slow and difficult struggle. In my familys history, ancestors on my fathers side were forced to flee religious persecution in the 1800s and my great-grandparents on my mothers side were forced into concentration camps during World War II based purely on the color of their skin. Virtually every group of people in America that are not considered to be "mainstream" have had to fight to earn their place in America. Thanks to those that fight for freedom, more and more are able share the freedom of opportunity that our nation professes.
We must continue to be vigilant in protecting our rights and freedoms. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once claimed that "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We must remember and learn from the mistakes of our past. Even as we pause and reflect on what has been accomplished over the past 223 years, we must continue to look forward and build a future that includes truth, liberty and justice for all.
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