Hansel and Gretel would give anything to be able to run free without a leash or fence or other hindrance. They are my used-to-be-foster dogs who were rescued by some Berry students in the middle of the bitter single-digit cold of the winter before last. They were living desperately by a dumpster. Their brother still had remnants of a nearby trash bag stuck around his neck, indicating they had been left by the dumpster in the bag in hopes they would simply die.
Hansel so strategically fights for his freedom, he should have been named Houdini. We are still trying to figure out the formula for keeping him contained in the backyard. My last attempt, months ago, was putting him on a tether line inside the fence and within a couple of hours he figured out the exact spot in the fence that he could get the line hung in the bushes with his feet on the ground to then work at pulling his head out of his collar.
Freedom is worth fighting for, he would tell you, but so is food, treats, a bed and love and companionship, so he chooses to happily exist in the house, even though he will probably always secretly long for the wind in his fur. You could call it part of the sacrifice of joining a civilized society, if you think about it.
We, as Americans, are equally and rightfully attached to the idea of freedom. Our country was founded on the idea of it, we have fought hard to protect it, many have lost their lives in defense of it, and we are keenly aware when we feel someone is infringing upon it.
But wait. Did you realize that neither the Declaration of Independence nor Pledge of Allegiance mention freedom, but rather use the word liberty? The Constitution did not originally use the word freedom at all, not until the Bill of Rights was later added. To-may-to vs. to-mah-to, you might say, but there are some subtle differences in how they are defined that I think are worth considering as we wind down our Independence Day celebrations.
The thing both words have in common is the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. Thankfully, by law we are protected from such and that is very much worth celebrating and defending. But, ask anyone familiar with the prevalence of human trafficking in America and they will tell you there are more people than you may realize who are being held against their will for horrible purposes, an estimated 80% involving young men and women who fall victim to the sex trade. Also worth considering is the frequency of false imprisonment due to failure of accurate proceedings in court cases. We often hear stories of innocent people being released after years of serving prison time for crimes they, in fact, did not commit. And, don’t get me started on the holding circumstances for both children and adults seeking asylum in this country. While they are not U.S. citizens, they are legally permitted by our Constitution to seek refuge here, and deserve to be treated in a humane manner while waiting for processing.
Liberty, as pledged in our country’s creed, is defined as:
The state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior or political views.
While freedom is defined as:
The power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.
Do you see the subtle differences there? Liberty refers to how we as humans are able to function within the structure of a societal system without undue oppression, while freedom basically refers to the right to express ourselves without censorship.
As we engage in political and social debate these days, it is not unusual to see folks calling for freedom to live their lives as they please, who will turn around and in the next breath, condemn, critique and question the same freedoms for others. Liberty and freedom are decidedly wonderful perks of living in this country. Our founding fathers were wise in seeking to break free of the oppression of the monarchy, but they knew that it would not come without sacrifice.
When we refer to the sacrifices we make for freedom, we think of the soldiers who have fought to protect that and all the rights of our system, but I would propose that we should celebrate another sacrifice that we can each make, each and every day, to protect these things we hold dear.
If we want liberty to live as we choose, we must humbly and openly fight for the same rights for those whose choices are different from ours and even those with whom we vehemently disagree. If we want the freedom to express ourselves as we wish, we must passionately protect the rights of those who speak against us.
If we continue to allow ourselves to be divided to the point that we wish to oppress the voices of others or the lifestyle choices of others, we are literally defeating the very freedoms and liberties we are claiming to protect. The greatest way we can celebrate our independence is to, in turn, celebrate the independence of those we agree with the least, and maybe then we can start to hear each other, to respect each other and to fight for freedom, liberty and justice for all.