By Steve Fish
March 28, 2021
Some days it’s scary just to turn on the news. People filled with such hate, extremism, or mental illness often injuring or killing other Americans. Politicians lying to the world about what is true and what is false. People believing in wild fantastic conspiracy theories on which there is not one shred of evidence. Children lamenting the loss of their parents to such craziness that it is difficult to even talk to them. People believing the last federal election for President was fraudulent, despite the fact that none of the numerous lawsuits filed throughout the United States turned up any credible evidence of massive voter fraud. It all makes you wonder if some people really understand what it means to be an American. What is happening to America?
Pity most people have not read, A Call To Reform. Otherwise, they may have gotten a different perspective on both themselves and the country in which they live.
In A Call To Reform there is a discussion of a high school teacher with his class about what it means to be an American. You see, over the span of his second career job as a secondary education teacher, the nature of his classes had changed considerably. The school evolved from a local high school with predominately one racial minority into a school which resembled more what the United States is like today. The challenge was many of the youth that attended that high school had never been outside their county to see the true racial makeup of the United States. So, discussion would sometimes be about what makes America’s culture unique among others in the world. From that emerged the concepts often found in the documents created by America’s Founding Fathers. Concepts like a federal democracy, religious toleration, all men are created equal (the young ladies had fun with that one), free speech (that one got interesting as well), and freedom of the press were mentioned. While there are certainly more important concepts, the discussion ended with the teacher telling his class he didn’t care what his students looked like, he didn’t care if their English was rough or what religion they practiced. What he cared about was if they believed in and embraced the ideals and the concepts found in the United States Constitution. That is what makes us American.
So, what are those ideals and concepts? While this brief blog cannot discuss all of them, let’s look at some of them within the framework of the Inalienable Rights. America’s Founding Fathers established a federal democracy in the hopes that it could provide and protect those Inalienable Rights Thomas Jefferson wrote about in the Declaration of Independence, the right of people to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Back in the day, 1776, kings of most European countries could have someone arrested and put into a prison never again to see the light of day. Talk about the concept of a fair and speedy trial and a person’s right to life. There was no such thing. Well, Founding Fathers were able to break away from England and establish the United States where hopefully, people would have the right to life. Yet, the struggle didn’t end there. It continues to this very day.
For hundreds of years, much of the U.S. history taught in classrooms often omitted the struggles to attain the high ideals of the Founding Fathers. For example, why were African Americans sometimes denied their right to life? Why were people lynched without a fair and speedy trial? In the southwest and west the story was the same except it was either Mexican Americans or Asian Americans who were often denied their right to life. Also, how is it in a country like the United States with such high ideals that parents have to worry about their children being safe in schools? Why do citizens, especially Jewish citizens, have to be afraid they may be gunned down in their own places of worship? Why do African Americans and Hispanic parents have to have talks with their children when they reach young adulthood about how to react to police when they approach/stop them? Why are they often profiled in the first place? For many of us, no one ever profiled us. And how is it possible that police can block a person’s airways by placing their knee/body on one’s neck? Really, the very people who are allegedly there to protect Americans. Why does anyone who attends a concert or goes shopping have to worry about being gunned down by a person with a military assault type weapon? And why do Asian Americans or any citizens have to worry about being gunned down in their place of work or beat up on the streets? And why are college athletes, playing a sport they love, subject to death threats simply because they didn’t meet fan expectations?
What is going on? Have Americans lost their dedication to those high ideals established by Founding Fathers?
Liberty, the second inalienable right. It is a word that has inspired revolutions throughout history. It is a word cherished by almost everyone on Earth. It means so many things to so many people. Yet, it can have both a positive and negative aspect.
Founding Fathers were perplexed with what to do with Liberty. They espoused the Liberty John Locke wrote about and incorporated it into all the important early American documents. But at the same time, they could not bring themselves to give liberty to the hundreds of thousands of slaves in America. Instead, they codified slavery into law. It took a civil war and the loss of almost one million lives to free the slaves. Despite that, it took the passage of the XIII Amendment (ratified on December 6, 1865) and the XIV Amendment (ratified on July 9, 1868) to guarantee Liberty to freed slaves. Yet the struggle to define Liberty in the United States did not end with the passage of these important Amendments. It continues to this very day.
Take for example freedom of speech. You have the right to express you opinion on matters. However, there is a responsibility that comes with freedom of speech. It was never meant for people to express negative aspects to the point that a person’s ability to make a living is in jeopardy. In addition, it was never meant for people to be able to magnify false information to the point that it can be hurtful, hateful or harm others. A good example is there are laws against yelling “fire” in a crowded theatre because in the past people did this thinking it would be funny watching people scramble for the exits. Unfortunately, some people were injured or killed in those mass exits. Why is this any different from people today spreading malicious rumors on social media which are often not true or can be very hateful, hurtful or harm individuals, even to an entire group of people? If you think this is an exaggeration, check the suicide rates among students in 1955 to 1970 when there was no social media. Then compare those rates against the time period 2005 to 2020. Most likely you will find a big difference with the rates being much higher in the 2005 to 2020 period. A school principal once said he had two major problems…social media and cell phones. Think about it.
Freedom of Religion…should be a given right? The Wars of Religion prior to and during our Founding Father’s time were fought in Europe. Millions of people were killed. Founding Fathers wanted a better world, one in which people could be free to practice whatever religion they chose, and others would be tolerant of that religion. So why are some citizens entering places of worship today to do harm/kill people? Why are there so many people trying to force their religion on students in a school? Where is the toleration in this thought? It might surprise some people to know Christian students, as well as those of other religions today, are still allowed to pray either before or after school in available rooms. What is not acceptable is to force all students to pray a specific religious prayer in homeroom. Think about this please. What if the tables were turned so that students would begin the day with a non-Christian prayer? For example, tomorrow the day will begin with a Muslim prayer and all Christian students are asked to stand and participate. Then on Wednesday, the day will begin with a Jewish pray and on Thursday a Hindu prayer. One must wonder if Christian students and their parents would accept such an arrangement? And if it is not acceptable to Christian students and parents, why would we force other students and their parents to abide by only Christian prayers in homeroom?
Think of this little scenario as a case study in separation of church and state. Since public schools are considered in the public sector, it would be unacceptable to force any students to pray a specific religious prayer other than a prayer of their religion. So, the best option is to allow students of a specific religion, prior to or after school to pray in a separate room. Voila, everyone is happy and the enlightenment ideas of separation of church and state and of toleration are maintained. Think about it. The Founding Fathers were wise beyond their years. They foresaw a governmental system that would allow everyone to express their religious beliefs without forcing any one group’s religious beliefs on others. And, if you can’t live with that, there are always private schools to send your children to where they will cater more to the specific religious aspect you desire.
Freedom of the Press…a time-honored freedom/right that many people fought hard for because in the old days, people were imprisoned, even executed for expressing their opinions in writing about religion, the current ruler and or the nobility. Doubtless there are few today who would want to give up this freedom/right. But, it too has a negative side and comes with a responsibility to use freedom of the press in a positive way.
Take dress in schools. Students have the right in most schools to dress as they like. However, in most schools they do not have the right to wear a shirt with a Nazi Swastika on it. That is because it can be very hurtful to Jewish students who may have lost relatives in the Holocaust during World War II. It’s the same concept for wearing a shirt with a Confederate flag on it. Most schools won’t allow this because it is especially hurtful to African American children who may have had relatives who were slaves prior to 1863 or relatives who were lynched by unlawful racist mobs. Make no mistake about it, these were crimes committed against American citizens, including rape, torture, and murder. No matter what you think the Confederate flag represents, remember it is a symbol of people who committed crimes against humanity as well as tried to destroy the United States of America and establish a separate country which would have codified slavery even more.
Freedom of Assembly…this is a tricky one. Founding Fathers really believed in the right to have peaceful protests. Unfortunately, passions often run high and at times some people riot and end up destroying property. If you don’t believe that, look up the riots that occurred in the colonies in 1765 over the Stamp Act! Then, fast forward to the Vietnam War and it is safe to say that the protests over that war were instrumental in ending not only the war but the draft as well. In addition, the recent Black Lives Matter protests have also had an impact on not only the political process in America but also in helping many who were not born African American understand what that ethnic minority often has to deal with in modern America. The fact is having the right to peacefully assemble to protest is a right of freedom. What is not a right is for these protests to sometimes deteriorate into riots, destroying businesses and property. However, we must remember that most people who protest go home (ninety-nine percent) at the end of a day. It’s often after curfew when people, like the young man who drove from Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin to participate in the riots, shooting and killing two people, show up to bring havoc to the area. NO good can come from such actions. And on the flip side, it is not acceptable for the government to send unmarked riot troops into an area to disperse people and haul them off in unmarked cars for interrogation. That folks is simply fascism. So, the challenge continues to this day to accentuate the positive side only of this freedom/right.
Last but not least is the Pursuit of Happiness. Incorporating this inalienable right into the Declaration of Independence gave every American the hope of enjoying the positive aspects of Life and Liberty. It was an opportunity for people to live their lives, for the most part, the way they wanted and to raise their family in a country that would allow them to fulfill their dreams as much as possible.
If Americans follow this line of thinking, then it stands to reason that every American should be able to have a basic healthcare plan. After all, if one cannot obtain medical care, then how can you really be happy? The United Nations today says healthcare is a universal human right.
In addition, there are numerous legal concepts found in The United States Constitution, Amendments IV, V, and VI that are integral to the Pursuit of Happiness. For example, Amendment IV says people have a right to “be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Unfortunately, this does not happen sometimes, like when the “no Knock Search by police in Louisville, resulted in the accidental killing of Briana Taylor. In addition, Amendment V, states that “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury…” Then in Amendment VI, “In all Criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed…” So why was a person held in the infamous Rikers Island Prison for years, and never received a trial?
All of this points to the fact if we want to maintain democracy, including rule of law, then we have to struggle against forces that want to impose authoritarian government upon a free people. Perhaps the challenge for Americans living today is the struggle to save America’s Republic. It’s not too late.
Let us join forces, Independents, Democrats and Republicans alike to bring forth the best, the positive attributes of American culture. Let us put aside partisan divide to once more walk into the light again, up the hill to that mountain Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about and to the Shining City President Reagan spoke about on the hill. Let us come together to reform the national government in the hopes of preserving the positive aspects of America’s unique culture. And in so doing, we will also preserve, for future generations of Americans, those human rights, civil liberties, and important legal concepts all Americans cherish. Only then can America truly bask in the sunlight of those Inalienable Rights Founding Fathers so believed in, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness!
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