I love the 4th of July. For us in Minnesota and the upper-Midwest it is the essential celebration of all that is good about our communities and our climate. Warm weather, friendly people, grilled food and cold drinks paired with fireworks, friends and family.
It is also a day to celebrate what is best about the United States of America. Those opening words of the Declaration of Independence, which was signed July 4, 1776;
“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.”
At the time the words were written they were a bold statement that some people are not granted by God the ability to rule over others. It was a statement that overturned centuries of belief in “divine right” of the ruling class. However, in 1776 the statement really did not apply to “all men” and certainly not to women. It applied to white, male, landowners. If you had no land, no wealth or were a person of color you were NOT part of the equation.
Thankfully this bold thought did not remain static, with the “original intention.” it was expanded to gradually include people of color and women. As Martin Luther King said, in the “I Have A Dream “ speech the promise of the Declaration of Independence was like a check.
“In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
I though of this irony today when I tried to call the office of Immigration and Naturalization, on behalf of a frantic mother; Does the phrase that “…all men are created equal… endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights… Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” apply to people from other countries?” Is it a global blessing from God, or does it only apply to Americans?
Obviously those defending America against “huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” would not be working on the 4th of July, and so I pledged to try again tomorrow to track down her children. She is confused as to where they have been taken, how they are being held, or even how they are doing. They were detained in the early morning hours four days ago. ICE official raided a work place, took the one son, and then forced entry into her home to take the other. This was in a small city near Minneapolis. Both of her adult sons were working full time for just wages and both of them are here without proper documentation.
So this Independence Day, I wonder; Can some enjoy freedoms, while others live in fear?
Do the self evident truths of God-given rights and equality apply to all, or only Americans?
Martin Luther King made the point that the popular assumptions of his time, regarding human equality and rights, needed to be scrutinized. Perhaps it is time to scrutinize again to whom those “unalienable rights belong? Especially in a time when families can be separated and people detained for no reason but their desire for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.