“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.” – First Amendment of the United States Constitution
Those of us who take a constructionist view of the constitution – that it means what it says and changing it requires an amendment, not mere legislation or legal “interpretation” – find a great deal to dislike about current governance. We feel that the rights and freedoms afforded under the Constitution (and the Declaration of Independence) are steadily eroding. It seems that this, at times, could lead to a constant drip of complaints on our part.
It is this steady drip of complaints that I’d like to address today. It seems unlikely that we would ever find ourselves in exactly a lukewarm position. That is, rarely would we be in exactly in the place where the status quo requires no complaint, but also engenders no praise.
Let me put it another way. When the next erosion of liberty comes, and we strike up a legitimate complaint, it should be the case (most of the time) that we look back in the history of commentary and point to our praise for the freedom when it did exist. Or do we take perfect liberty and defense of rights as so inherent that none would dare oppress it?
(I suppose this ought to be true of more than just government. When we face a legitimate turn-for-the-worse on some front in our lives, and lay grievance to whomever it is due, we ought to also be able to note our prior thankfulness for the lack of the wrong.)
So tonight, let us consider the blessings of liberty we have here in this country.
Freedom of Religion. I am free to believe in God however I choose. Now, I suppose nobody can really know the heart, and one could claim that all men everywhere are free to do the same. But I’m free to believe openly. The worst that will happen to me is mockery, not imprisonment, torture, or death. This is not true everywhere in this world.
Freedom of Assembly. This morning I was at a church service. In America, we can still gather together openly in a religious service. This too is not true in many places in this world. In Iran, or China, or Vietnam, there are significant restrictions on churches – driving many believers underground. In places like North Korea, Saudi Arabia, or Eritrea, it’s outright illegal for Christians to gather together in a religious service.
Of course freedom of assembly extends beyond religious observance. We can assemble, peacefully, for just about any purpose imaginable. This isn’t true in lots of places. Places ruled by dictators, such as Venezuela or Cuba, have a severe suspicion of any gathering of people that isn’t directed by the government. After all, who knows if they’re plotting to overthrow the dictator? – best to just keep people from assembling.
And then of course there is freedom of speech. The freedom to criticize the government – or anybody for that matter – without fear of official reprisal. This too is not universal. Of late we’ve seen a rise in laws designed to prevent criticism of the government (take Russia for example). The reasoning behind such laws is progressive at its core. After all, the government is working hard to solve the problems of society, and to criticize said government is to inhibit progress. (In other places, like Malaysia, limits on speech are theocratic. But, I suppose we split hairs in trying to find a distinction between religious theocracy and social/political theocracy.)
It is freedom of speech that allows this blog to exist. So, today we are grateful. Grateful to the founders of this nation who established freedoms and rights for the citizens – and put them in writing making them harder to strip away. We are thankful to the many men and women who fought and died to defend those freedoms and rights. We are thankful to a sovereign God who allowed us to live in such a time and such a place as this. And we remember our brothers and sisters abroad who do not have such freedoms.
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