“Congress shall pass 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 to peacefully assemble and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
We all know the above is the First Amendment to our Constitution. Writing this amendment was just as much a giant leap for mankind as was Neil Armstrong’s first step on the surface of the moon. It put into writing that we the people have the right to speak, assemble and worship in peace. This amendment, the body of the Constitution and the amendments that followed established the inalienable rights for all people as long as the republic would last.
Unfortunately, the principles above did not apply to women nor to enslaved persons. Under the prevailing culture of that time, neither the Declaration nor the Constitution would have been written or approved if they included women and the enslaved. At that time and for thousands of years before, across the globe, women were bartered and other humans were the spoils of war or property.
And yet, this idea that every human being was endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights was a new idea. These documents are the bedrock of our republic – the high-water mark of freedom for all, even if they weren’t applied to all.
The words established our American ideals. We were handed a skeleton, a framework for a new type of government that had never been tried before and has never been equaled since. It was up to the generations that followed to put meat on the bones and ensure the freedoms applied to all of us.
But, why didn’t that happen from the beginning? What held us back? The words were there for everybody to see. They are straight forward. What happened to cause “freedom for all” to be short circuited?
What happened was that it is difficult to move from the words – liberty and justice for all – to a nation that lives up to those words. The words are right but, before the ink was dry, they were not applied to all.
The cause can be found in our never-changing human nature. We are inherently more prone to hate, greed, envy, and pride, then we are to love, faith, hope, and justice. To move as a people to a rewarding, peaceful existence, we must put aside our craven tendencies and seek the better angels of our nature.
The establishment of our inalienable rights and our Constitution are really more significant than Neil Armstrong’s one giant leap for mankind. The Declaration and Constitution were the first steps to freedom and justice for all. Take away the words of our government’s founding documents, and the freedoms provided therein and liberty and justice for all will disappear. If they are erased, we will degenerate into mob rule, or become a government based on censorship and thought control. Think of most universities where any expression of thought other than the professorial line is forbidden. Points of view other than those expressed by the woke and politically correct are verboten. It is remarkable that the university, which began as a place of free expression, has degenerated into an Orwellian sinkhole.
To keep our freedom, we the people must defend it especially when our freedoms are threatened in our schools, governments, in the halls of Congress and by lawbreakers in the streets. Freedom is not free – it requires vigilance. It requires free speech. Anything less is a step backward.
Remember: words matter. What we think, and what we say, leads to what we do and what we become. Our goal in our own thoughts and in reaching out to others should be based on the positive words above; words of faith, family and fraternity will bind us together. The words of hate, greed and pride will lead to the fall of our republic and the rise of totalitarianism.
As George Orwell wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
It is all about words, words we say and mean. It is all about liberty.
Jim Hofmann is a resident of Moab. He is a retired educator, corporate trainer, program developer, operations manager and engages in a variety of volunteer pursuits.