I wrote this piece last year on the Fourth of July, when one of the biggest concerns of our nation was the fact that children were being held in detention centers at the border. As of June 8, 2020, according this New York Times article, 124 children were still in being held in our country’s three family detention centers. A federal judge has ordered that they all be released by July 17 due to the danger of the coronavirus running rampant through these centers. These children won’t be able to celebrate this weekend. They are not alone — many Americans are still waiting for true freedom. As we celebrate differently this year, may we also think differently. What are we willing to do to ensure liberty and justice for all?
Donned in red, white, and blue many of us this weekend will find our way to picnics and gatherings; we’ll light sparklers and watch fireworks. It’s a national holiday to celebrate independence — freedom from tyranny, freedom to vote, and freedom to speak our minds.
What a privilege we have to live in a country that is free — that for hundreds of years has been a destination for those fleeing oppression, longing for liberty, hoping for a better life.
So, it seems a bit ironic to me that as we celebrate our freedom, hundreds of children whose parents dared to walk a road toward what they hoped would be a better life, are held in crowded rooms, clutching tinfoil blankets, unsure of when they will see their families again.
It seems impossible that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, children going to school, families attending church, or friends going to a concert can be gunned down in moments by an assailant with a semi-automatic weapon; that kindergartners learn how to Run, Hide, or Fight; and that whole webpages, programs, and organizations exist for the sole purpose of training people how to respond in the event of a violent attack.
One hundred fifty-six years after the end of slavery and fifty-five years after the Civil Rights Act outlawing discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, African Americans are 75% more likely to face a charge carrying a mandatory minimum sentence than white offenders committing the same crime (University of Michigan School of Law), Muslims are subject to travel restrictions and hate crimes, and women receive 80% of the pay men receive for comparable jobs (AAUW). Injustice persists for Native Americans, Hispanics, Jews, and members of the LGBTQ community.
Aren’t all men (and women and children) created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights?
In the United States, where someone is sexually assaulted every 92 seconds and 1 out of 6 women will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (RAINN), where 84% of women and 43% of men experience sexual harassment in the workplace (NPR), who, I ask, is free?
Is this what our ancestors fought for? Is this their more perfect union?
Did they fight to give us the freedom to lock up children away from their families?
Did they consider only white Christian men to be created equal? not people of color, women, or children? Do we?
Did they ensure the right to bear arms so citizens could freely gun down innocents as they live their daily lives?
Did they include among our unalienable rights the freedom to take the innocence and safety of others?
Is that what freedom looks like?
Or can we do better? Is it possible to live in a society where all can experience the same freedoms? Or is that simply an American dream?
As we light our grills and watch our fireworks, can we pause to consider the high price that was paid for American freedom and the high price that some are still paying? Can we think about what we’d be willing to sacrifice to offer safe haven to the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free?
Can’t we find a way to provide life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all inside our borders? Wouldn’t doing so ensure domestic tranquility? provide for the common defense? promote the general welfare? ensure the blessings of liberty?
Wasn’t that the hope in creating one nation, under God — the God who created all men, women, and children, who loves all people?
The God who commanded that we not only “love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls, and minds” but also “love our neighbor as ourselves”? The God who, when asked “who is my neighbor?” told a story of mercy to strangers and perceived enemies (Luke 10:25-37)?
The God who told us to “seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17)?
The God who requires us “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8)?
Aren’t we free to do just that?
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”Galatians 5:1