This year, we have seen some horrific examples of freedoms being trampled in the world. It makes us appreciate our freedoms more than ever. It also reminds us that freedom is not free. We have thousands of people, military and civilian, protecting our freedoms and giving their lives so that we may enjoy ours.
We need to realize that with our individual freedoms come personal responsibilities. Just because our Bill of Rights guarantees us freedom of speech, it does not give us the right to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theater, just for the fun of it. The freedom to own a gun comes with the responsibility to keep it safe. Owning a gun does not give us the right to walk willy-nilly into a school, a theater, a church or a mall and randomly shoot innocent bystanders.
We have the precious right of the Fifth Amendment to protect us from incriminating ourselves. Invoking the fifth does not imply guilt. Instead, it keeps us from being our own worst enemy by saying things that could be misinterpreted. The responsibility that comes with this is that we not use it as a shield to hide behind.
The first 10 amendments to our constitution are generally considered our Bill of Rights. Over time, it has become necessary to make additional amendments as needed to address issues that were not part of our fabric in 1776. The 13th Amendment granted slaves their freedom, enforcing Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Former slaves were given the right to vote by the 15th Amendment. A few decades later, the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote.
Alcohol was prohibited by the 18th Amendment, but the 21st Amendment restored the right to sell and consume alcohol, thus proving the fluidity of rights according to current demand.
The rights and responsibilities discussion has raged, rages now and will continue to rage. There are strict Constitutionalists who want strict interpretation of laws while others prefer to see laws that fit a situation as it is now. There are probably few laws that please everyone. (Although I’m mighty glad they finally got around to giving the vote to women!)
With each new disaster brought about by our fellow human, it seems that responsibility is a fading issue. Excuses abound for a mass murderer or serial rapist. We are willing to send our young men and women to war, or into burning buildings or to patrol crime-ridden areas so we don’t have to. We are handing off our responsibilities to be good citizens. To truly be “the land of the free,” we need to do our part. Let’s all help ring that freedom bell not just on July Fourth but year-round.