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Davich: Which freedoms are we celebrating today anyway?

Jerry Davich.

Jerry Davich.

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Fourth of JULY

The signers

There were 56 signers to the Declaration of Independence, with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston composing the Committee of Five that drafted it.

Benjamin Franklin, at age 70, was the oldest of the signers, and Edward Rutledge, at age 26, was the youngest.

Two future presidents signed it — John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both who died on the 50th anniversary of signing the Declaration (July 4, 1826).

Did you know?

There is one place in the U.S. with “patriot” in its name:
Patriot, Indiana, with a
population of 205.

Source: U.S. Census Bureau

We’ve changed but ...

Our country has changed in profound ways since that historic document was signed but, in some fundamental ways, it hasn’t changed much.

Historian Dave Richards, author of “Swords in Their Hands: George Washington and the Newburgh Conspiracy,” compares some of the common denominators linking Revolutionary War-era America to the country we live in today, including these:

Washington feared the Revolution might be followed by chaos or even a civil war. Of course, that war eventually did follow and resentment from fringe groups lingers in the South today.

National lotteries were established by the Continental Congress as a way to help finance the war. Today some states use lotteries to obtain revenue for educational purposes.

During the Revolutionary War we had term limits; no delegate could serve for more than three years during any six-year period. Various interest groups would like to see a return of term limits.

Soldiers and officers in the Continental Army went months, if not years, without pay during the war. Today we are still not treating our soldiers and veterans properly, illustrated by the Department of Veterans Affairs disgrace.

Desertions were such a problem that Washington actually feared the Continental Army might dissolve. Today, the subject of desertion is getting much attention with the case of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Updated: August 5, 2014 6:14AM



Freedom.

Today, on the Fourth of July, we are supposed to celebrate this ever-present yet enigmatic word. Our country is a symbol of freedom to much of the world, and we’ve been echoing this word since early childhood.

But what kind of freedom exactly are we celebrating? Religious freedom? Personal freedom? Freedom of speech? Freedom of the press? Freedom to choose? All of the above?

When I did a Google search for the word “freedom,” guess what popped up first? Independence Day? Liberty? Patriotism? The United States of America? Or possibly the countless buckets of blood spilled to protect our freedom?

Nah. The Chase Freedom credit card popped up first. That says it all in a country that’s awash in red, white and blue consumerism. Plus, what better way to put a down payment on the American Dream than through credit card debt, huh?

Farther down, however, I found what I was looking for: “Freedom is the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.” So this, in part, is what we’re celebrating on this truly federal of all federal holidays.

The freedom to parade our values down Main Street, wave American flags, barbecue butchered animals, get sunburned during the day and ignite endless fireworks at night, among other rituals.

I’m not trying to be prescriptive of how we should celebrate, only descriptive of how we do it each year. I wonder if our Founding Fathers would be proud of us or ashamed of us. Is this what they had in mind, to freely exercise our freedom to do whatever we damn well please in front of each other and the world?

On this date in 1776, the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. At that time, it’s estimated that 2.5 million people lived in our newly independent nation.

Our population since then has skyrocketed to more than 318 million people and the concept of freedom has exploded into a fireworks show in itself. Our freedoms are constantly changing, whether we want them to or not. This is, in part, what freedom is all about.

Still, our country seems more polarized than ever. We’re more isolated from each other, more insulated from opposing viewpoints, and more insulted by the notion of any type of agreement. We’re mutually disgusted, disconnected and disappointed over the disjointed state of our United States.

We don’t merely disagree with people who hold differing opinions, we often dislike them. Hatred is not uncommon. Public civility has become an oxymoron. And every contentious issue gets laundered through the legal system, from landmark Supreme Court rulings to laughable local cases.

For example, the Porter County woman who filed suit against a Chesterton tavern for serving her too much alcohol, causing her to wreck her car on the way home. Her suit claims “negligence and failing to exercise reasonable care” against the tavern. I can’t believe it.

Also, the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana filed a lawsuit last week on behalf of a woman who was pulled over and interrogated after her bumper sticker caught the attention of Indianapolis police officers.

The ACLU claims the cops violated her First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights by detaining her for a sticker that stated, “Unmarked Police Car.” The cop reportedly told her that people would think she was impersonating a police officer and that someone might shoot her. This case also is going to court.

The latest landmark ruling focuses on the Hobby Lobby case, giving birth to a notion that freedom of religion now includes corporations masquerading as “individuals.” Not only that, but corporate individuals who harbor “closely held” religious beliefs that trump government policy and female employees’ rights.

Whose freedom is protected here? Whose freedom is ignored?

Just three days ago a truckload of new state laws was dumped into our laps, some to protect our freedom, others to limit it — supposedly for our own good.

For instance, police can’t extract or download cellphone information without probable cause that the phone was used in a crime. Also, kids under age 16 can no longer use commercial tanning devices, even with their parent’s consent. And gated communities must now allow candidates for public office into their guarded Shangri-las.

Our gated community of a country is still a work in progress. Let’s face it, we’re still in our adolescence. We’re rebellious, temperamental and too cocky at times. This comes from the privilege of having so many freedoms.

Still, I feel blessed to live here and be able to exercise those freedoms at will. This includes the freedom to write this column, voice my beliefs and challenge you today. I challenge you to pause — in between your celebratory rituals — and ask yourself what freedom means. In your life. In your community. In our country.

The very least we can do on Independence Day is exercise our hard-fought freedom to independently examine its meaning.



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