The American Revolution occurred during a time of violent, philosophical upheaval around the world. Many of our ideals came from French philosophers, revolutionaries, and allies, as well as from our founding fathers. American ideals, at the time, were radical and subversive, and led to levels of violence that our current culture shuns in real life (yet promotes in entertainment media). Even in this country, profound disagreements arise from differences in interpretation of sections of The Constitution.
As an example, refer to the Second Amendment: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Given that the authors of the Constitution had finished winning a revolution with an army composed of state militias and freedom fighters, it makes sense that they wanted to ensure citizens could retain the armory necessary to fight again. But note that the amendment refers to a “well regulated Militia.” Does this amendment mean that a citizen with no training or mental health evaluation is allowed to carry heavy assault weapons into public schools or post offices? Fortunately, even though I do disagree with recent Supreme Court rulings, this argument has been fought mostly in our court system instead of on our streets.
My pastor, this Sunday before the 4th of July, quoted The Constitution‘s First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” He emphasized, in an astute sermon, that the Amendment does not promise freedom from religion. Allow me to address the aspects of freedom of speech and the right to peaceably assemble (even to protest) and to petition.
During my military training and career, I do not remember any fellow officer ever declaring, “My country, right or wrong,” although I have heard plenty of civilians express this saying, especially when they disagree with formal protests. The well-trained and traveled warriors I served with were more likely to disagree with both sides of a political argument. They often criticized our government. Almost all voted. In the end, however, we all agreed to do our duty to protect The Constitution because our form of Democracy seemed better than what we observed elsewhere.
Consequently, I am dismayed by the vehemence with which my acquaintances attack me when I express my political and religious opinions on Facebook. I tiptoe the line between Conservative and Liberal demagoguery. Our Constitution is supposed to protect citizens who bring their grievances about government to the Government. This Fourth of July, I urge everyone to share one radical thought, any thought that exhibits a change in how your friends perceive the government, in memory of the fifty-six radicals who penned their signatures to the Declaration of Independence and became traitors to what, until then, had been their country.
I close with a quote from Voltaire [François Marie Arouet], a French philosopher whose writings influenced America’s founding fathers. The airmen I flew with could always agree on this one thing:
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”