238 years ago today, September 25, 1789, the Bill of Rights was passed by the United States Congress. It would be ratified that December, giving Citizens of the United States protections like few in the history of the world had ever seen.
They included the first amendment:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
THE FIRST AMENDMENT IS AWESOME:
Sometimes Americans are like the spoiled rich kid born into a huge home with a swimming pool, tennis court, big rooms, fancy televisions, etc., that never bothers to notice how good they have it. Because they know no other life, they don’t realize how thankful they should be. Freedom of religion? That is something a very small percentage of humans in world history have enjoyed. Freedom of speech? As long as you are not hurting someone or causing danger, you can pretty much say whatever you want without being in legal trouble. Millions of people have been killed simply for saying the wrong thing! Right to assemble? If we want to get together and talk about something, or have a protest, our government can’t stop us. That has led to better treatment of workers, women’s suffrage, civil rights and ending and avoiding wars when the people spoke loud enough. Freedom of press? We have people out there dedicating their entire lives to holding our government accountable. Sometimes it catches and reveals Government not acting in our best interest, as in the case of Watergate. Many times it prevents something bad from ever happening in the first place, because leaders know what is going to happen if the media finds out. The right to petition the Government for redress of grievances? The government works for you, not the other way around. If you are not happy, you don’t have to blindly accept what the government does “because they said so.”
We have rights. Glorious, glorious rights. Rights that people in this country have struggled to protect, and often died for. Greater rights than most of human history have enjoyed. Rights that people around the world have fought for centuries to have. Rights that people did incredibly brave and difficult things to come to America so they could enjoy.
Take a breath and think about how blessed we all are to have these rights and freedoms. For most of us, all we did to earn them was get born in the right place.
FREEDOM IS DIFFICULT:
One of the biggest reasons that people throughout history have not enjoyed the freedoms we have is that the people in charge didn’t trust them. They didn’t think the average Jane and Joe had the intellect and the character to be be capable of handling freedom. When our Bill of Rights was being debated, half of the framers agreed with this school of thought. Thankfully, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others won that argument, and decided to add protection of the freedom of people into what would be known as “The Bill of Rights.” It was bold, it was daring. It was trusting. They thought we could handle it. I’m guessing they might be a little disappointed in how we have been behaving lately.
THAT BRINGS US TO TODAY:
This weekend was one of the saddest I can remember. Like many Americans, I love football. For pretty much every weekend in the fall for my entire life, it is what I do. Sometimes I sit squarely on the couch and watch 25 hours worth in a weekend. I’m not alone. This weekend, millions of Americans of the same mind couldn’t enjoy it like we wanted. Instead, sports became the focal point of politics. People took sides and hard stances. It got ugly. It doesn’t feel like the America I and so many others love right now. Someone asked me last night to write a blog about kneeling during the national anthem and how I felt. The truth is, I don’t know. I love my country immensely. My life has been dedicated to teaching about it. I’ve run five full marathons while carrying a large American flag. I yell at people for talking during the national anthem or not taking their hat off. I get it. I’d rather it wasn’t happening, but I also feel those doing it have real concerns they are trying to express, and were essentially backed into a corner Saturday night by the President. I wish he had something like, “I understand you have grievances, and although it is your right to kneel during the national anthem, I and millions of Americans don’t want you to. We find it offensive to those who have served and sacrificed for this country. How about we make a deal?…you stand up, and I’ll invite you to the White House to talk about your concerns.” That was not the path our President chose though. By Saturday night, everyone knew what Sunday was going to look like: ugly.
What I really want is for Sundays to go back to normal. I just want to get up, go to the couch, have a bowl of fruit loops, and watch the world’s greatest athletes do amazing things all day. What I also want is for African Americans and other minorities to feel like they are treated fairly by their government, law enforcement, and fellow citizens. I think they have some legitimate grievances, and we have a responsibility to listen and try to alleviate those concerns. I’d rather they weren’t using the national anthem as a time to protest, but that is the route they have chosen. What I want is a path to peace and justice, and I know the paths we are choosing only lead further away from that.
On this birthday of our most precious rights, I challenge you to use your free speech to be a patriot. That means someone who cares about their country, wants what is best for all of its people, and looks to help it heal when needed. A patriot knows their country is imperfect, but loves it while trying to make it better. A patriot understands the values and ideals the country was founded on, and seeks a country where all get to share in the pursuit of those values and ideals.
Here are some ways you can be a patriot:
Please stop going from “I disagree with you” to “I hate you, everything you stand for, and you are worthless” so quickly.
There used to be middle steps to disagreement. Things would gradually get more heated, and people would have to make choices about how much they wanted to escalate. Now, I see way too many people that go from 0 to 100 in ten seconds. People disagree on the kneeling issue. It is complicated, and there are no easy answers. Be big enough to respect the fact that the answer may not be cut and dry. If someone supports the players who are kneeling, that doesn’t make them some “anti-American, worthless crybaby snowflake who should just leave if they hate this place so much.” If someone doesn’t support the players doing this, it doesn’t make them “A white supremacist, KKK loving, crazy right wing nut.” There are valid arguments on each side. People on both sides love and want what is best for their country. If you feel strongly about your side, you should be able to articulate and support your position with logic without resorting to insults and name calling. If you can’t, then you should probably spend some time researching and reflecting. How do you think people you disagree with are going to respond when being insulted? Do you think that is the way that you are going to change their mind on the issue?
Please stop using the worst fringes of the other side to label everyone who doesn’t see the world your way.
The overwhelming number of Americans have beliefs close to the middle. Identity politics, the media, and some of our current leaders have tried to drive a wedge between us and push us further apart. Don’t let them. Most conservatives do not support Neo Nazis, white supremacy, or other hate groups. Most liberals do not support violent protest groups who destroy property and employ methods of terror and havoc. I see and hear phrases which collect an entire group of people and label them based upon the actions of their most extreme members. The chances are if you are reading this, you are not an extremist. You may have slightly different views on what is best for our country than myself or other people, but the truth is we are probably not that far apart. When we label entire other groups it is intellectually lazy and it is dangerous. It throws gasoline on fires that we should be throwing water on.
Please stop using what someone else does as a justification for your words and actions:
Yesterday, a friend of mine was absolutely beside himself. He made about ten posts about how he was never watching the N.F.L., how he was tired of all the anti American Liberals, and anyone who supported the players taking a knee should “go f### themselves.” I tried to have a conversation with him about how he shouldn’t box all liberals together, and that the vast majority of people who support the players don’t see it as being anti-American, but pro-American by trying to help it get better. His answer was, “I’ve been labeled a racist and a homophobe for years because I’m a Republican, if they are going to box me in, I’ll do it right back to them.” It is not just him, I’ve read and heard much of this stuff from both sides.
Didn’t your mom talk to you about jumping off bridges?
As humans, we are blessed with the ability to choose our responses. We as individuals can set the tone for how we want to handle disagreement and discourse amongst ourselves. We can honor the freedoms we were given by choosing a responsible path to exercise them.
Think long term about what is best for us as a country, not just feels right for you in the moment.
As I sadly watched people that I love and care about on both sides of the issue say explosive, inflammatory things, I thought to myself, “How are we going to get out of this? How are we going to get back to a place where we respect and value those who are not exactly like us?”
We have a responsibility to future generations to leave our country better than we found it. On both sides of the political spectrum, I think most people would agree that it doesn’t feel like we are currently on the road to doing that. I don’t think anyone wants to live in a polarized country that is actually two separate countries. I think most want to put the “UNITED” back in the United States of America.
Choose your words in real life and online with the next five decades in mind, not the next five minutes. If you post something online, ask yourself: Is it thoughtful? Is it respectful? Will it move us closer together? Or, is it meant only to insult and incite? Will this persuade anyone to take a second look at my side or the argument, or will this just anger them and push them further into their corner. How would I respond to this post if I didn’t agree with the point it is trying to make? Freedom of speech requires self discipline. Just because you have the right to say something, doesn’t mean that you should. In short, remember the “golden rule”.
Love your country, and remember love is a verb
Being a patriot and loving your country does not mean you have to be some blind sheep that never questions it. It means you should be appreciating the opportunities and blessings it has provided for you, while working to make it better for everyone. It means you join in helping create the country we want this to be, one that all people will stand for the national anthem in without being forced to.
Happy birthday to the first amendment, I hope it gets celebrated like it deserves.
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