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Reflections on the 4th of July: Our Freedoms and Rights

06Jul 2008

I love the 4th of July holiday – largely because we have wonderful family “get togethers” that are a lot of fun (and we have done so for several years, which evoke a large number of fond memories for me.) And our family celebrations involve several traditions that I enjoy – being outside playing games (this year I was introduced to bocce), shooting fireworks, barbeque with great grilled meat, swimming and boating, and watching a large fireworks show (one of my great nieces asked “Why do we celebrate the Fourth of July with fireworks?” which led to a neat family discussion). So, almost always, the Fourth is a fun time (it was again this year!)

Celebrating the anniversary of our country’s Independence Day is also a great time to reflect on the numerous freedoms we have. This year I am especially aware of our freedoms in contrast to the lack of freedoms I have been exposed to in other countries.

        • We have the freedom to live where we want. Yes, I live in Kansas and many people wonder why. Largely, our living in Kansas has to do with heritage and family proximity. But I love where I live – out in the country with trees, birds, wildlife, stars, and quiet. Good people. No traffic to speak of. Low property costs (which allows me to use my money on other things important to me.) And we are close enough to what we need and desire. (Being honest, the biggest downside of living in Kansas is the weather and lack of geographical features.) But if I wanted to move, I can (and have, previously living in the Chicago area, Phoenix, and Atlanta). Recently, I have become aware of reports from China where the government autocratically dictates that people must relocate. The government decides to build a new factory, to build a new dam for a river, and condemn the houses where people live. The people have no choice or recourse and they must move, with little, if any, compensation for their homes. Interestingly, several hundred thousand were reportedly displaced to build the Olympic stadium for this summer’s Olympic games, (quite an irony, obviously).
      • We have the freedom to choose our own vocation. Although figuring out what we want to do with our lives vocationally is a huge challenge for young people in our country currently, it is a nice problem to have. Historically, individuals had little vocational choice due to the demands of economic survival and the cost of obtaining education or training (this is still true for the billions of people living at a subsistence level.) And in many countries, young people really have no meaningful choices for their careers – they either work as laborers in the local economy or they move to the local metropolis in search of higher paying jobs, and wind up taking whatever jobs are available (housecleaning, working in a factory). And in many countries, governmental regulations – along with the corruption and bribes needed – prohibit people from pursuing careers to meet the needs they see (not to mention the lack of economic resources).
      • We have the freedom to speak our minds freely. Americans are known for “speaking their mind”, even if it is in ignorance. But, whether it is through the Internet, in personal conversations, writing an editorial to the newspaper, passing out leaflets or speaking at a public meeting, we have the freedom to share our thoughts, even if they differ from the current government authorities or from the majority culture. And we do not have to fear being imprisoned or for reprisal later (being visited after dark by the police or militia). I see the free flow of ideas and healthy discussion of different perspectives as a central process to our society monitoring itself. Recent reports from Zimbabwe and the essentially fake election there demonstrate freedom of speech (especially disagreement with the current government) is not respected there.
      • We have the free to gather in groups publicly. This is obviously closely linked to the freedom of speech, but differs in an important way. If the populace becomes upset with some aspect of community life, we have the right to gather by the thousands, if we want, to make our voice known. Or we can gather to hear important speakers (less important in our age of technology), or meet to make plans of action.
      • We have the freedom to choose our religious beliefs. Obviously, many of the early American settlers came to the country specifically for the desire of religious freedom — attempting to escape religious persecution (many Reformed Protestant groups such as the Pilgrims or Hutterites, or being forced to participate in the State-sanctioned religion [e.g. the Church of England]). Today religious persecution is rampant throughout the world; not only Islamic countries persecuting Christians such as Kazakhstan, Algeria, Yemen, and Tajikistan, but Muslims persecuting other Muslim sects throughout the Middle East, and the Hindu / Muslim conflict in India and Pakistan. Unfortunately, over the centuries Christians have also engaged in their own religious persecution as well (the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition).
      • But it occurred to me that our freedoms or closely related to, and deeply rooted in certain rights we have. I think one action step from this weekend is for me to reread the Bill of Rights (and at least summarize the points with my family). I am not big on “rights”, feeling many overemphasize their perceived individual “rights” without seeing the accompanying responsibilities that go with them. However, I am becoming increasingly attuned to the rights that we have as U.S. citizens, as dictated by our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

        One foundational right I have become aware of is the right to own property. Hernando de Soto has written a wonderful book, The Mystery of Capitalism, which shows the necessity of owning property as the precursor for dealing with poverty in the developing world. If you cannot own property (not just land but any type of personal property), it inhibits your ability to be entrepreneurial and create business — because it can be taken away, and because you have no means of creating collateral to obtain a loan.

        I am intrigued, however, to think through — what responsibilities go with the freedoms and rights that we have? That is, we have the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” (from the Declaration of Independence) — what responsibilities go with these rights?

        I would love to hear your thoughts. (FYI – if you click on the title of this blog, it will connect you to a place where you can leave your comments; or you may go to www.drpaulwhite.com/blog and leave your comments there.)

        Have a great week!

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