Liberty and Justice for All: A Work in Progress

Here are some words that are familiar to most Americans:

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.

They are the most commonly quoted words from that famous document signed on July 4, 1776 which marked the beginning of the North American colonies’ fight for Independence from the British crown.  I suspect that those words will be remembered and even invoked by many today, 236 years later as those of us in the United States celebrate our Independence Day.

What occurs to me as I think on those words, however, is that while they are sweeping and have far-reaching implications (despite the fact that they are gender exclusive), they were penned, signed onto, and embraced by men who applied them in a much more limited fashion.  After all, many of our nation’s great founders and lovers of liberty owned slaves, denying those slaves their own liberty.  In fact, it would be almost a full century after the Declaration of Independence was signed that its principle of the God-given, inalienable right to liberty would be recognized for slaves.

I don’t say this to demonize our founding fathers.  I say this to point out that, as great as they were, they were men, perfectly imperfect and equally capable of not seeing how their principles need to be applied to all people.  I say this to remind us on this holiday that we should not merely celebrate our independence — or freedom, as it is more often (at least to my mind) called.  We should continue to make liberty for all a greater reality, because that great work started by those great men over two centuries ago has not been accomplished in full.

So today, I offer a small list of the many liberties that I see as lacking and in need of greater support and defense:

  • Young black men still need the liberty to walk through certain neighborhoods without immediately being treated with suspicion.
  • Women still need the liberty to pick out their clothing without worrying about how others — particularly — men will view and treat them based on their attire.
  • Same sex couples still need the liberty to walk in public arm-in-arm or holding hands without the fear of being harassed or assaulted.
  • Workers need (to keep) the liberty to form unions so that they can better bargain and fight for their needs in the face of the corporate interests of their employers.

This is just a small list.  There are many different people in this great country that values freedom who still struggle to maintain and gain some basic freedoms, both constitutional and otherwise.  I would encourage others to add to my list in the comments.  I would also say that while we celebrate our freedom today, let us keep in mind that freedom is a much more perfect and comprehensive prospect than we — much like our founding fathers — fully realize.  And let us continue to work to see that perfect and comprehensive prospect fully explored and fully realized.

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