Happy Independence Day, America, and happy 243rd anniversary to history’s greatest experiment in freedom!
Today is when Americans celebrate our freedoms. But sadly, too many of us seem willing to trade away our freedoms in exchange for hollow promises of comfort and security. As the great philosopher Joni Mitchell once said, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone.” That’s why the Founding Fathers took such care to lock our most important rights safely within the First Amendment to the Constitution. There are more freedoms guaranteed in that one short sentence than people in most nations can even dream of. That’s why for centuries now, people from around the world have risked their lives to come to America. The Founders understood that freedom really is that precious.
When the framers of the Constitution first met in 1787, many feared that if they created a strong federal government, it would trample the rights of the people, just like the British king they’d fought to break free of. So to make sure the people’s rights would always be protected, they added 10 amendments - although George Mason thought they were so important, they should come first, as the Preface.
Now, in case you’ve never heard it or have just forgotten (as too many federal judges have), here is the First Amendment, in its entirety. Don’t worry, this won’t take long:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Yep, that’s it. This was before government needed a 2,000-page bill just to ruin your health insurance. Only 45 simple words were needed to protect our right to speak freely without fear of government retribution...Our right to publish those words so that other Americans can read and debate them…Our right to band together with like-thinking Americans and protest peacefully without fear of arrest…Our right to petition our leaders to change their policies…And our right to be free from having an official state religion forced on us, but also from government interference with the free expression of our personal religious beliefs. A lot of people celebrate the first half of that religious right but pretend the second half doesn’t exist. The Supreme Court even seems to be reticent lately to make clear that it means what it says, even though it takes only six words to say it: “…or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
These are the rights that together create the free American culture we celebrate today. The Founders thought they were all so important that somehow, they found a way to list every single one of them first.
Then, just to be certain that no future government ever tried to take those rights away, they made the very next amendment the right to bear arms. And they emphasized that these rights are given by God, not government. So trying to scratch some of them off of the parchment won’t make a lick of difference.