• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Independence Day, 2013

Two hundred thirty seven years ago 56 men pledged their life, liberty and sacred honor to give birth to a new nation, a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

What brought this Band of Brothers to Independence Hall that fateful July in 1776 was the recognition that the tyranny of King George had made it necessary to dissolve the political bands which connected us to England.

In making the case that we were entitled to do so, that we could trump King George’s divine right to rule over us, we framed a new political vision for all of mankind.

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.

Somehow, somewhere, freedom was encoded in our earliest cultures. There is a yearning in us to be free — free to be left alone to pursue our own particular form of happiness. This is part of what it “means” to be human. And it was this yearning to be free that—as the yoke of tyranny continued to tighten—exploded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in July of 1776.

“We are in the very midst of revolution, the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.”

John Adams, July, 1776

Today is our day to celebrate this birth of freedom. It’s a day to stand strong with the peoples of Egypt as they struggle to create a just government committed to securing their rights. It’s a day to stand with the peoples of Syria as they struggle to throw off the yoke of tyranny. It’s a day to stand with the peoples of Iran and North Korea and the other countries around the globe where freedom has not yet come.

It’s a day to celebrate the continuing revolution in America as well. The decisions last week by the Supreme Court are a vivid civics lesson as we the people strive to meet the challenges we face in securing our rights. Who has a right to the last seat left in a college classroom? Is a voter registration card a legitimate means to control fraud at the polls or is it the subtle reemergence of a segregationist-era poll tax. Under what circumstances can a majority deny equal treatment to a minority?

Set aside for today whether you agree or disagree with the Court’s decisions, for today is the day to celebrate that it is our right—we the people—to sort out these issues, to make these decisions.

Government may seem remote but it is our government, not the King’s, and if enough of us don’t like the decisions we can change it. We did it in 1954 when the Warren Court overturned an 1896 Supreme Court decision legitimizing segregated education and I expect we will do it again in Citizens United.  This too is our right.

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.

Today is a day as well to take note of the NSA’s PRISM program and the ongoing debate over the “balance” between individual rights and collective security. As Supreme Court Justice Souter wrote in 2004: The defining character of American constitutional government is its constant tension between security and liberty, serving both by partial helpings of each.

The point … the key point … the point we celebrate today is that it us—we the people—who choose, who get to decide. It is us—we the people—to whom the founders bequeathed the awesome responsibility to decide. This is the defining vision of America: government of the people, by the people and for the people.

The American vision that we celebrate today is the vision of the Declaration, that all men are created equal, that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The American vision is the vision of retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: The words [of the law] are words of equality, justice, fairness, consistency, predictability, balance, equity, of wrongs righted, and the repose of disputes settled without violence, without undue advantage, and without leaving either side with bitter feelings of having been cheated.  It is the music sung in the world of child-like innocence in which the lion lies down with the lamb.  Perhaps it’s a world that never was nor ever will be, but it is a world worth living toward. 

The American vision is the vision of John Adams, There must be decency and respect … for persons of every rank, or we are undone. In a popular government, this is our only way.

The American vision is the vision of Lincoln, with malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in … to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

The American vision is the vision of Martin Luther King, Jr, we will transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

The American vision is the vision of Thomas Paine, the cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind.

The American vision is the vision captured by Judge Learned Hand, the spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten: that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

The American vision is a vision of deep spiritual and moral values; values that find their origins in the common heritage of all humankind; values that speak to the deepest yearnings of our soul.

It is this vision that we celebrate today, not because America is perfect but because we are not.

Let this vision we celebrate today guide our efforts as we strive to create that ever more perfect union.

Let freedom ring.

 

Copyright © 2013. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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