Inalienable, Alienable Rights

Late last week, I had a voice mail from my theater director, friend, and mentor Marty Grubbs. He was visiting a friend only a few miles away from my new home and wanted to know if we could get together. I rarely get to see Marty, so we quickly agreed to do brunch on Sunday morning. It was awesome to see him again, and he is doing very well. I’m glad we were able to connect.

After brunch, Hedda headed into work and Marty headed off to do some sight-seeing. It’s a gorgeous day in DC. The sun is shining, and the temperature is in the mid-eighties; but their is a pleasant breeze and the humidity is low. I decided to finally make a trip to the Jefferson Memorial. I had been wanting to come out here and work for quite a while, since I am very attracted to the monument’s similarity to the Pantheon in Rome. And there couldn’t be a more perfect afternoon for it!

It’s really a pleasant place; and for a nice change, there aren’t obtrusive security personelle every where. It angers me to no end that public monuments are so zealously guarded by our government that visiting them becomes a tortuous affair. To be honest, I was expecting to be confronted by a guard when I sat down and pulled out my laptop, but fortunately there don’t seem to be any stupid rules here yet.

The memorial’s walls are predictably decorated with four of Jefferson’s quotes in large, capital letters. The only one immediately recognizable is the “We hold these truths…” part from the Declaration of Independence. One of the other quotes talks about the need of the government to advance along with the rest of society. The third mentions relgious freedom. The final quote relates to the dispicable institution of slavery, and the hypocrisy of our nation for supporting it.

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free. Establish the law for educating the common people. This it is the business of the state to effect and on a general plan.”

Jefferson’s point of view is that the liberties codified in our founding documents, which he played a major role in writing, are granted to us, indeed to all people, by God. Thus, our nation’s hipocrisy would eventually incur the wrath of that God. Of more interest to me, though, is the question first posed by the quote. “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” The implication is that those liberties are secure only when each of us recognize and respect the greatness of such a gift. And it might be taken as evidence that the problems with our nation today is the failure to recognize this very fact. Perhaps our abysmal voter turnout and corrupt political system are the result of a failure to appreciate this wonderful gift from on high.

I would guess that most of our national forefathers really believed that God gifted them with these freedoms, but they certainly did not take them for granted. They fought to be free of a regime that occluded their freedoms for its own gain. They bled and died to rid themselves of that regime. Indeed, that very faith in God’s gift imbued them with a righteous zeal that began the birth of a this nation. It was their reason for going to war against the most powerful military in the world. It was their purpose. And they really had to work for it!

A gift given perpetually, however, will soon be taken for granted. Rephrase the original quote in the light of over two hundred years of God-gifted freedom into “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are taken for granted?” Of course not!

The failure to appreciate our civil freedoms is a simple failure of gratitude. So many generations of Americans have grown up with this gift that we now expect it as our due. Without work. Without suffering. Without even participation. Is this because we are a nation of spoiled children who don’t know the value of a hard day’s work? I don’t think so. The American culture is reveared and criticized around the world for our work ethic. We work more hours per week, more weeks per year, and more years of our lives than any other people in the world. We are obviously willing to work for what we deem worthy. The problem, then, is our perception of freedom.

Freedom is not a gift. The idea that our freedoms are inalienable rights bequethed from our creator lulls us into believing that complacency is okay. The founders of this nation knew that those inalienable rights were the goal, not the status quo. It has now been the status quo for over two hundred years, though, and we seem to have forgotten the goal. We take that stutus quo for granted because we believe it to be untouchable.

So we must fight to constantly re-achieve our goal. If we do not, the status quo will slowly slide back towards the types of tyranny against which the Revolutionary War was fought. Today, especially in the face of terrorism, we must realize that a free society must tolerate at least some insecurity. We must realize that our besotted politicians are exchanging both our liberties and our dollars for campaign donations and television time. We must earn real freedom over and over again, or we will be free in name only.