There is the forbidden four-letter "F" word, and then there is the revered four-letter one: "Flag." And "Freedom" has become the seven-letter revered, almost worshiped, word for the Fourth of July and the rest of the year as well. More than a word. More than a concept. And therefore different, I believe, than intended in the Preamble to the Constitution:
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
Today the very word "freedom" is held aloft, above and disconnected from all those other words. How have you heard "freedom" used lately?
"'Freedom' sale" at the mall. Freedom to buy? To acquire? To consume? Freedom to make a good deal?
"Leader of the Free World." As though the world were distinctly divided between only two kinds of political systems, and as though the Berlin Wall never came down over 20 years ago.
We went to Iraq and to Afghanistan so we wouldn't lose our "freedom." This over-simplified use of the word may be the most poignant of all. Certainly we live in a dangerous world. But on any given day, my personal "freedom," (often equated with the "American way of life), was not the central issue. However, it became a word to hang on to, like the flag itself, to give purpose to the deaths and injuries. The issues are so much more complex. The tragedy and grief of all that suffering so much greater.
"The government will take away your freedom." That phrase has become a smoke screen of fear (another four-letter "f" word) to scare people into believing President Obama is the arch-enemy of that hallowed word. That gives Romney and his super pacs license to say any untruth and stamp it with the emotion-laden, patriotic-sounding, seven-letter word, "Freedom."
"It's a free country, isn't it?" Yes. But freedom in the Preamble begins, "We the People... "
Freedom from (the long list of tyrannical abuses listed in the Declaration of Independence) means Freedom for.... In the midst of July 4th celebrations, the question, the challenge, is how we will use that freedom for all the people.
Last week the Supreme Court decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act bill was labeled by opponents as taking away your "freedom." However it provides freedom for millions to have access to health care, lessening worry and economic hardship.
Last week the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a 100-year old Montana law that had banned corporations from spending money to influence state elections, the ruling therefore, in effect, strengthening the Citizens United ruling. Freedom of speech needs to mean freedom for everyone's voice to be heard.
Last week Mississippi's governor signed into law a bill requiring a physician performing abortions be an OB/GYN and have admitting privileges at an area hospital, thereby meeting the governor's goal that the state become "abortion free." His freedom denies U.S. constitutionally guaranteed freedoms for all women in Mississippi.
Last week Attorney General Erik Holder was held in Contempt of Congress. Hmm... Could contempt for him be connected to his efforts to overturn the Voter Suppression laws in many states? What about freedom for my neighbor to vote?
"I'm tired of all these political adds," people say. Tired? Then become involved to speak and inform rather than letting large anonymous corporate dollars do all the speaking and silence your voice. Use your freedom!
"We the people... " The freedom we celebrate this Fourth of July has from the beginning been not just "my freedom," but "ours."
For "ourselves and our posterity," (not just for "my" family, but for every child).
"To promote the general welfare," (yes, the well-being of everyone, and not label it a welfare state).
"To provide for the common defense..."That means all of us taking responsibility together for keeping America secure (not just a few who must bear the burden for the rest), and to work for peace in the world.
"To insure domestic tranquility," (not just freedom to have my personal guns, and forget about the effect that increased gun violence may have on the neighbor, or other neighborhoods).
"To establish justice," (the huge challenge is to work hard this year to re-establish voter rights and fair and equal access to the polls on election day for all).
And yes, "to secure the blessings of liberty... we "do ordain and establish" and continue to work together on the living document which is the Constitution. A common work of mutual accountability.