July 4, 2007

"I believe in America"

This is the first line of The Godfather, spoken by an Italian immigrant.

As long as I can remember, the 4th of July has been accompanied by family, food, and festivities. I suspect, though, that this is not uncommon thing in America; still, I think my connection with Independence Day goes a little bit deeper.

My mom's dad was born on the 4th of July in 1923, so my mom always associates the 4th with her dad. All her life she would sing "America, the Beautiful" right after "Happy Birthday." Grandpa spent most of his life working for or with the government and the military developing over a dozen patents and creating a bomb that was used in Vietnam to clear landing zones for helicopters (which, until recently, was the biggest non-nuclear device ever used in combat). This association with birthdays and America, which is entirely appropriate since it was also the birth of the Nation, seemed to inspire a love for America that mirrored the love for her dad. It was this love for America that she instilled in me throughout my life, that's what this blog is about.

I find it bewildering and infinitely frustrating that so many people have so little knowledge of and appreciation for the Constitution. There are dozens of quotes and platitudes that people use to describe the various freedoms entailed in the Constitution and the number of politicians that claim to fight for it while claiming the other guys are destroying it comes frighteningly close to about 535.

Every time I read it I am amazed at how forward thinking and truly revolutionary it was at the time. Spreading out the power of the government to three different bodies, reserving power to the states and only allowing specific powers to the federal government, veto power, veto override power, the bicameral legislature, and, most importantly, the power of the Congress to amend it.

The addition of the Bill of Rights in 1789 added more protection for the citizens from the government. While I'm sure that life under King George was quite unpleasant, his somewhat tyrannical rule was the motivation for the the colonies' succession from England. The Bill of Rights was so important that several states were unwilling to ratify the Constitution without them. The modern-day impact of the Bill of Rights is commonly taken for granted. This addition to the Constitution protects all citizens, even those who speak out against it. Ask citizens of China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, Iraq 5 years ago, and at least a half-dozen other countries how important it is to be able to criticize the government. This protection also extends to freedom of religion, and while I myself am not religious, I can still fight to protect everyone else's right to worship how they choose because I respect the right that the Bill of Rights provides.

Another oft overlooked section of the Bill of Rights (we all immediately think of freedom of speech, press, and religion) is "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." This is more commonly known as the right to privacy. In a more tyrannical society, a la Orwell's 1984, the government could walk in your front door and look through all your personal belongings for no earthly reason. This sounds absurd to us now but it is a reality to citizens of the countries I mentioned previously.

Obviously there are scenarios where the Bill of Rights may be ignored (for lack of a better word) but these scenarios commonly involve protection of the public health and safety. Clearly this is a controversial issue after September 11th, but I won't get into that except to say that I don't feel that my own personal liberties have been diminished at all.

We really are lucky to have had men like Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, Franklin, etc, committed to such a lofty endeavor. They literally created a country. Think for a moment on how monumental this is. We live in the most free country in the world because these men dared to challenge a dictatorial government and literally fought to protect the freedoms that we enjoy and mostly forget about 364 days of the year. So take a few moments today to really appreciate the fact that you and I can freely exchange ideas through blogs, emails, letters, phone calls and conversations without fear of government retribution, that you and I can go to any church we want, or not go at all, that you and I can feel safe in our homes without fear of intrusion. These unalterable freedoms and the additional protections and powers granted to the citizens in the Constitution are a comforting reminder that this country will not and cannot be destroyed from within. I think Grandpa would agree with me.

I know there are some people that are annoyed, frustrated, even angry at the current state of affairs in America. But today, on the 231st anniversary of our independence, let's forget about what you don't like about America and celebrate what we all love about it. Tomorrow we can go back to exercising our rights to criticize the government at all levels. Thanks for reading and have a happy and safe 4th!

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