Friday, July 4, 2008

It Is Your Right, It Is Your Duty

One of the more amusing sports of the Sixties protest movement was to type up this excerpt of the “Declaration of Independence,” put it on a clipboard, call it a petition, and ask people on the street to sign it:

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to throw off such government.”

Most refused. Angrily. These were the “Our Country, Right or Wrong,” “Love It or Leave It” days of the Vietnam War, when any criticism of the government was considered unpatriotic. When told what they’d been asked to sign was an excerpt of the “Declaration of Independence,” these patriots refused to believe it.

Sound familiar?

Sadly, since 9-11 and the war in Iraq, we’ve been hearing that kind of rhetoric again. My guess is that if you typed up the excerpt and asked people on the street to sign it, they’d have the same response as people did in 1969.

There it is, though—a clear directive from our forefathers about our responsibilities as citizens of a free nation.

The Fourth of July seems a good day to remind ourselves that patriotism is more than loving America. It is our right, it is our duty to pay attention to what’s happening to the country we love and to take action when those to whom we've entrusted great power take advantage of it, diminishing what our forefathers meant America to be.

It’s easy to be an unquestioning patriot, raising the flag in your front yard, wearing it on your lapel, displaying it on bumper stickers claiming God’s blessing--letting these superficial things define what patriotism is. Not so easy to read carefully the documents upon which our country was created and to think hard about what the news tells us about how what those in power are doing both here and abroad may affect our destiny as a free nation.

And not easy at all to say “No!” especially when you may be one small voice among many. Still, sometimes it needs to be said.

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