More Than Fireworks and Hot Dogs

On this day 245 years ago, the Second Continental Congress signed a declaration that the 13 American colonies were no longer under British rule. 

That feisty letter—which our forefathers sent “across the pond” to King George—effectively said, “As of today, we are free to build and become a different kind of nation.” 

We call the Fourth of July “Independence Day.” What a joyous celebration of freedom it is!

And what a word “freedom” is. Few words have such power to stir our souls. Why? What does “freedom” really mean? 

Here are some things it doesn’t mean:

Freedom isn’t freedom from cost. As the saying goes, “Freedom isn’t free.” It always comes at a price. At least one mark of maturity is the realization that everything of value has a cost. A mother’s love is free to her child, but very costly to her.

Freedom isn’t freedom from conflict. We don’t always agree with the choices of others. This creates tensions among free people. While we should never seek conflict, the mere possibility of disagreement is not a good reason to abdicate our rightful freedoms. Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence gave their lives to secure this “right” of dissent for us.

We still have work to do in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The struggle continues. It’s a struggle that requires all of us pulling together, not fighting each other. 

Freedom isn’t freedom from consequences. As Tony Evans likes to say, “You can choose your choices, or you can choose your consequences. But you can’t choose both.” He’s right. Actions have consequences. We cannot escape them. But we can choose them. 

Ironically, when we use our freedom to choose a consequence, we effectively (and voluntarily) bind ourselves to whatever actions are required to achieve that consequence!

The concert pianist, scratch golfer, skilled surgeon, and chess grandmaster didn’t stumble into greatness. They got there via an arduous path they freely chose so they might enjoy the consequence they deeply valued.

So if freedom isn’t freedom from cost, conflict, or consequences, what is it? 

It’s:

Freedom of conscience. It’s wrong to force people to violate their conscience. That’s why the “first freedom” in our Bill of Rights is the freedom of religion. This is deeper than one’s preference of worship style or steeple color. It goes to the core of what someone believes about God, and how that belief—or unbelief—plays out in daily civic life. Though we often disagree about these matters, we must never force someone to violate their conscience. 

Freedom of commerce. When an enterprising individual takes a business risk, it will cost her. If her venture pays off, she will experience consequences . . . like a huge profit! If we want her (and other entrepreneurs) to do this over and over again, we need to think long and hard before we (a) punish (i.e., over-tax and over-regulate) such efforts and (b) reward others who aren’t willing to take such risks. 

One reason America is leading the world out of the economic quagmire caused by COVID-19 is that we actually encourage risk takers with the prospect of financial success. While a few entrepreneurs are greedy opportunists, most are not evil pirates. They are engines of productivity and prosperity. It’s this freedom of commerce that leads to more prosperity for us all.

Freedom to critique and convince. Not everyone today is enthusiastic about America’s brand of freedom. In fact, it seems fewer today believe in it than at any point in my lifetime. 

We do ourselves no favors by pretending everything in our country is perfect. In truth, there’s much that needs fixing. Freedom lovers understand America has always been a work in progress . . . and that the only way to learn from our past failures is to look them squarely in the eye, admit them, and forge a better way.

We still have work to do in the land of the free and the home of the brave. The struggle continues. It’s a struggle that requires all of us pulling together, not fighting each other. 

I’m reminded of a fact from the early days of our free, yet often fractured nation. In 1782, six years into this new experiment of freedom, our leaders finally agreed on a national seal bearing the Latin motto, “E pluribus Unum.” Translation? “Out of many, one.” 

If you ask me, that’s the message our nation needs on this Independence Day.

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