This week, we celebrate Independence Day — America’s national holiday of freedom.
Independence Day is celebrated July 4 because that’s when Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was adopted by the second Continental Congress: It announced that the colonies intended to be free from English rule. It also was a declaration of individual freedom; the colonists declared their intention to seek “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The Fourth of July has become a day to gather with friends and family for cookouts, fireworks, and flag and sparkler waving. We celebrate our democratic form of government, which, for all its faults, has kept us safe and free from foreign invasion for almost 200 years.
As we celebrate and wave our flags, though, we should ponder the erosion of our freedom in recent years. This erosion hasn’t been an overnight event, and it’s not the fault of any one president or political party. Rather, it’s been a gradual, almost silent elevation of other values, including safety and political correctness, over freedom.
James Madison, father of our Constitution, warned of this danger when he said, “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
It’s a sobering thought that, despite repeated tragedies in the United States involving semi-automatic weapons, these guns are not only still available but sales actually surged after the Sandy Hook shootings in December. Why is this? One reason is a minority of Americans believe these types of guns are a last protection against a federal government that they view as ever more tyrannical.
Here in Alexandria, most of us scoff at such notions as extreme to the point of absurdity. But the underlying notion — that as our freedom erodes, we are losing something precious and possibly irretrievable — should nag at all of us. This is a big national discussion that we need to have in a serious manner.
It is not partisan or unpatriotic to ask tough questions, such as:
• Are we comfortable with the government having access to our phone calls, texts and emails, if accessing them helps thwart terrorists?
• Given the recent politicization of the IRS, do we trust our government to handle such information appropriately?
• Are we comfortable with a society where someone can lose a job because of an insensitive comment, whether it was spoken 25 years ago or yesterday? Is the right to be a jerk part of having free speech? Is enforced niceness more important to us than freedom?
There are logical answers to both sides of these questions. There also are many more questions like them concerning the level of freedom we, as Americans, must have versus how much liberty we are willing to surrender to the government in pursuit of other objectives. The bottom line, though, is without an open discussion our freedom will continue to wane.
As former President Woodrow Wilson said: “Liberty has never come from the government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. … The history of liberty is a history of the limitation of governmental power, not the increase of it.”