This week we pause as a nation and celebrate our Independence from tyranny with picnics, festivals and of course fireworks. We light the evening sky with brilliant colors and fascinating shapes as we remind ourselves that we live in a nation where as our forebears declared,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
A beautiful sentiment and a powerful declaration, these words of liberty inspire us still. Of course, the definition of the prescribed unalienable rights and the access to them by all persons has been and continues to be the source of great divides in our not so perfect union.
This past week has demonstrated the gulf that exists between ideologies, theologies and perceptions found across the land we call the United States of America. The highest court of law in our land, the Supreme Court, ruled on three controversial cases during their session. The highly anticipated rulings were celebrated by some and decried by others. The overly politicized SCOTUS struck down fifty years of civil rights law which had ensured the right of persons to vote regardless of their race in places where blatant discrimination against people of color had prevented rightful citizens the ability to cast their vote. The ruling stated that demography has changed and the outdated law just doesn’t make sense anymore. When our founders signed the declaration, quoted from above, men were of one race and gender in America, white, European and land holding. Black and brown folks, indigenous peoples, women and immigrants from other lands were not included in the men of the July 4th 1776 document.
The justices were correct the demography has changed in the land that I love, which by the way is precisely why I love this land. Here, as is nearly nowhere duplicated, persons are persons regardless of any other describing or defining attribute, and as persons are endowed with liberty and promised justice for all. Freedom is the heart of America and justice is her soul. Ensuring liberty and justice for all has always relied on the democratic practice of lawmaking in our nation. I pray our leaders will continue to ensure the rights of all Americans to voice our freedom through the ballot box.
The rulings, handed down by SCOTUS on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8, concerning same sex marriage were by far the most dramatic, at least on social media and TV as persons on all sides of this issue stated their agreement or disagreement. While there is not space here for me to tackle the theological disagreements about the origin and nature of marriage and there are many, I will reflect briefly on the relationship of the rulings to the aforementioned document of our independence. When the colonists signed their argument for freedom from the tyranny of King George III, they also declared their independence from the Church of England, as the church and the monarchy were essentially one institution. Following their exercise in liberty, Congress established our Bill of Rights in 1791, including these words from the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof
Tyranny of religion, by religion and for religion was not the kind of country our founders envisioned. So, as I understand the recent rulings, nothing prohibits the free exercise of anyone’s religious beliefs as a result. Folks who define marriage as only for heterosexual couples will still be able to marry, deny religious consecration for any folks outside their definition and receive the same rights and benefits as they had previous to last week. Folks who have a broader definition of marriage including same gender couples will now receive the same rights and benefits from the state and welcoming religious communities. No one has to change their religious beliefs or the practice thereof. The ruling is a matter of rights and benefits of freedom and justice for every American.
In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things, charity—Disciples founders.
When the red, white and blue lights up the skies this week, we celebrate our unity in diversity, our liberty, freedom and justice for all. Happy Independence Day!