In 2000, I had the privilege to be present as film and television legend, Norman Lear, and his wife Lyn, purchased an original copy of the Declaration of Independence. You may have not realized it is possible to purchase a fundamental document of democracy, but there is one remaining copy of the Dunlop Broadside for private sale, and the Lears bought it. Because, as Norman says, it's "the people's document," their goal was to travel it to all 50 states and spark a conversation about what it means to live in a democracy. Leading up to the presidential election, I helped him build a tour that ended up taking ten years to travel to all fifty states, in the process registering four million new voters.
Fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday. It's a wonderful celebration of the ability of every individual to make change and build a country we all feel proud of and believe in. But it is not just a holiday for backyard BBQs and fireworks -- it is a celebration of our freedom from a tyrannical monarchy and the birth of a democracy where every person's voice matters. The work that I do at the Los Angeles-based issue-advocacy firm, RALLY, honors that spirit as we create powerful movements that galvanize the public and leave a positive legacy of change.
That's why when the Supreme Court issued a ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on Monday, that employers can withhold health care coverage to their employees, I was overcome. The implication in that decision, and other decisions made this term, are that corporations have just as much power as you or me. It means that "We the People" have become "We the people, along with bigger, more powerful Corporations."
It is devastating that the week we should most be celebrating how far we've come as a country, we mourn the giant step we've taken backwards.
The Declaration of Independence says the following:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal... with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
Although I think the founders didn't mean to exclude women, I know they didn't mean to include corporations. Religious freedom does not include the right to deny your employees contraception.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and partially by Justice Elena Kagan, that: "In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."
The court's decision has opened what will likely be a floodgate of religious discrimination in the workplace.
As I prepare for the Fourth of July weekend -- shop for a barbecue, decide what red, white and blue outfit I will be wearing, plan where to watch fireworks with my son -- I'm also committing myself to do one thing that is a true celebration of the holiday--take action.
I will sign a petition at People for the American Way to overturn Citizens United and the McCutcheon decisions with a Constitutional Amendment here, I will send money to Planned Parenthood to protect women's access to health care no matter what their bosses say. And needless to say, I will vote with my dollar and not shop at Hobby Lobby or any other store that denies employees their federal rights.
The Declaration of Independence is alive and well -- I've toured with it and I honor its words every day. We live in the best democracy in the world and the most patriotic action I can do on the Fourth is to declare dissent. That's what a democracy truly is and although I mourn the courts decision, I celebrate my ability to change them.