Constitutional Freedoms

Freedom Does Not Mean Assaulting the Dignity of Our Fellow Citizens

With an understanding of our nation's foundations, we give deference to our Creator — and welcome civility

As the United States celebrates its 243rd birthday this Independence Day, it’s worth asking where we stand as a nation.

What makes us strong?

What is the source of our way of life?

For our Founding Fathers, the answer was simple. Our boldness and our confidence come from freedom. It is the birthright proclaimed by every American.

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It’s grounded in the belief that free men and women do not need kings but can govern themselves. This monumental point was stressed by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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 …”

It was further emphasized by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg as he spoke of the fallen soldiers: “We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

While freedom and bravery are siblings in any civilized society, they are beloved twins in the United States of America.

And so, it was freedom that inspired 13 colonies to righteously revolt against their sovereign and create a new nation. It was the staunch belief in a divine call for a republic based on freedom that led to a bloody Civil War in order to preserve that Union. And throughout our long history as a nation, and woven within our national fabric as a people, it has always been freedom that has motivated and sustained our way of life.

Freedom is so highly revered that Americans are even willing to suffer and die in its defense. For example, it was the threat against freedom that inspired American soldiers to storm Omaha Beach, and it was a love for freedom that roused the passengers of Flight 93 on 9/11 to fight against terror and bring down their own flight in order to save others.

Americans cherish freedom. It’s in our blood. It’s in our culture. We sing about it, as we understand its fragility: “And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there. Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

Freedom is the source of our bravery, and bravery is the cost of our freedom. And while freedom and bravery are siblings in any civilized society, they are beloved twins in the United States of America.

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As Americans, we have always understood how these two must always walk together if we are to flourish as a people. As we remind ourselves of this star-spangled interaction between freedom and bravery, we recommit ourselves as Americans to name and fight against any and all offenses to freedom, or the institutions that guarantee it, or the symbols that represent it.

As Americans, we have always innately understood that true freedom is not the uncontrolled power to do whatever we want or to say whatever we want. From our foundation as a nation upon the earth, we have always realized that true freedom is the power to do what is right and the character to strive for what is good.

Freedom is not assaulting — in covered masks — the harmony of the common good or the dignity of our fellow citizens. Freedom does not mean that we can attack and seek to diminish the very institutions of our freedom, such as the electoral college or the office of the president. Freedom does not mean that we can mock or disparage revered symbols, such as the American flag (either the Betsy Ross version or our contemporary one) or our national anthem — which always demands a standing ovation.

Freedom requires self-governance in the hearts of every American and in American society. It’s a maturity of soul that empowers us to act above our passions and desires, to see the proper ordering of things, and to do what is right.

Freedom is an openness to God.

By its nature, therefore, freedom is called to be civil and civilizing. It demands just laws and respectable boundaries, as we sing: “America! America! God mend thine ev’ry flaw, Confirm thy soul in self-control, Thy liberty in law.”

Left to our own devices, we can easily pass on bravery and quickly allow our freedom to become enslaved. And a weakened bravery and a wayward freedom readily removes itself from its Creator and rapidly replaces the common good with a sovereign self.

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In such an arena, a republic becomes questionable and self-governance becomes a fantasy. In such a state, passion replaces virtue, power dominates equality, coercion oppresses persuasion, and ideology eclipses reason.

Freedom is manipulatively redefined and becomes an empty buzz word and the bounty of the most powerful or most influential.

It is a proper understanding of freedom — which gives deference to our Creator and welcomes good laws, civility, and self-control — that strengthens our national identity and orders our way of life. It is this freedom that is America’s inheritance.

It allows us, as the land of the free and the home of the brave, to breathe and prosper as a nation. This is the freedom we celebrate on this 243rd year of our independence.

Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD, is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Indian Land, South Carolina. He is the author of the book, “Lord, Teach Us to Pray: A Guide to the Spiritual Life and Christian Discipleship.”