Last Thursday and Friday, Americans all over the globe celebrated the Fourth of July – the official American holiday marking the founding of our country. People celebrated with picnics and BBQs and fireworks. Some people view the Fourth of July as a time to be off work and relax or maybe spend time with their family and friends.

But the Fourth of July is much more than that. Listen to a part of the Declaration of Independence – the document which established the United States as a country apart from the British empire:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

The Declaration of Independence stated that we had certain unalienable rights – rights that cannot be surrendered, sold or transferred to someone else – not the government nor another person. They are not given to us by the government and therefore cannot be taken away or controlled by the government. These rights belong to each one of us; given to us by our Creator.

We have a right to have a life, to live in this country – we do not have to fear that the government will come and impound us or imprison us without cause. We can live that life as we see fit as long as it does not violate any laws.

The right to liberty is an extension of the right to life – the freedom to live our lives as we see fit, without violating any established laws. The right to liberty was originally intended to allow the United States to become a melting pot, a conglomeration of people from many countries living in the manner they were used to.

Lately, I’ve heard a lot about people concerned about protecting their own freedom, their own liberty. They don’t care that they are giving themselves unequal freedom by denying the same freedoms to others. Some of these are religious freedom to practice a faith different from Christianity or access to adequate and equal healthcare. They feel that only their freedoms are guaranteed and ‘devil may care’ about any other people’s freedom.

In order to have a country where we all have the same rights and freedoms, each one of us has to stop judging, separating and rejecting whole groups of people based on our own personal prejudices and commit to ‘liberty and justice for all’. We have to stop rejecting anyone who doesn’t look, act, think, behave, or believe just like us. We have to quit defining ‘normal’ by gathering our friends and associates around us, describing our common characteristics, and then demonizing everything else. That is not liberty for all.

Our personal appreciation of liberty – and our respect for people who express their freedoms differently than we do – is greatly enhanced when we take time to build relationships with men and women who are different than we are.

The Declaration of Independence DOES NOT GUARANTEE happiness. All it says is that we are guaranteed the chance to be happy, the ability to pursue whatever it is that makes us happy. But WE have to find that happiness for ourselves. . . and within ourselves. Or, we can choose not to find happiness in our lives. It is up to each of us what we do.

Our founding fathers said ‘all men are created equal.’ At that time, however, this was meant only for white males. . . people of color and women were not considered to be covered under ‘all men are created equal’. And unfortunately, even today women and people of color and other minorities are still not considered ‘equal’.

    The Emancipation Proclamation put an end to overt slavery, but today slavery exists in forms of human trafficking or workplace discrimination.

    The Civil Rights legislative of fifty years ago went a long way in ensuring that all people would be treated equally under the law. But every day we see or hear news that we are not there yet.

We all need to keep striving to treat everyone the same.

    The country has yet to pass an Equal Rights Amendment legislating that women be treated the same as men – there is still a seventy cents on the dollar discrepancy between men’s and women’s pay. And with the recent political environment, more and more healthcare decisions, which women should be free to make with their doctor, have been greatly restricted or taken away completely.

    And minorities are still light years away from being treated equal. Some people can be refused housing or fired without cause because of who they are. Just recently some immigrants were viciously attacked because they ‘weren’t from here’.

We need to remember Martin Luther King’s statement that

    “no one is free until everyone is free’”

We, as a country are not doing a very good job of providing freedom and pursuit of happiness. In some areas such as equal housing and employment, immigration and education we have gone backwards.

As the nation has matured, the social and political climate has changed much from what the Founding Fathers imagined when they wrote the Declaration of Independence. Some of the content has been modified to include specifics which should equalize rights. But we are not there – and we have a long way to go.

But, nevertheless, the United States is a beacon of freedom and liberty. We are lucky to be living in a country that still clings to the principles of

    ‘Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness’

Let us give thanks that this is where we live and for the foresight of those men a long time ago by singing God Bless America.

    God bless America, land that I love.
    Stand beside her, & guide her,
    Through the night, with the light from above.
    From the mountains, to the prairies,
    To the oceans, white with foam;
    God bless America, my home, sweet home,
    God bless America, my home, sweet home.

Delivered at In The Garden Community Ministry, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, 6

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