As we are all aware, tomorrow is the 4th of July. It is the time of year we celebrate the birth of our country. It is the time we have set aside to remember the day, 237 years ago, when a group of British subjects from all 13 American Colonies assembled in Independence Hall in Philadelphia to declare our independence! Independence from the British Crown, independence from tyranny, and an affirmation of a belief that each person deserves, nay, is entitled to the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (limited as their definition of “a person” was). It was a novel idea in that day and age. While the concept of self-determination was not unheard of at the time, it was certainly rare in the world, and the pursuit of this ideal was not easy.
As Independence Day arrives again, it is certainly a time for celebration! Celebration of that day in 1776, and celebration of every victory for the values of freedom and equality since: the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th amendment, Women’s Suffrage and the 19th amendment, The Fair Labor Standards Act, and last week’s Supreme Court Decision striking down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act!  This day is truly one to celebrate how far our nation has come. However, it must also give us pause to reflect on how far we have yet to go.  We should all take a moment amidst the celebration to ask ourselves what these principles of freedom and equality mean to us.  Now, especially seems a very poignant time for some sober reflection on the direction our country is moving in.  As the recent NSA tracking leaks have shown us, our leaders are not always quite as intent on upholding our founding principles as we might hope.  We see every day that the Bill of Rights, the basic freedoms which we hold to the highest standard, are only as strong as those who stand up for them.

We see citizens who risk everything to bring violations of our founding principles to light mistreated before they have been convicted of any crime.  Bradley Manning faces a top-secret trial, the details of which we are forbidden from learning; Edward Snowden fled the country that he loves, likely to avoid similar treatment. So many others have had their lives ruined for standing up for ideals which are bigger than themselves.
This Independence day, we should celebrate our nation, and we should celebrate our freedoms, but we must never become too comfortable; too complacent. We must always be vigilant, and always be aware that our freedoms are not guaranteed. Without concerned citizens there to say that a government action has crossed the line, there may come a time when there is no line left to cross.  It may seem a stretch of the imagination, but with every curtailment of our freedom of speech, it becomes that much harder to stand up for what is right. With every obstacle placed in the way of our freedom of assembly, it becomes that much harder to gather in protest of the wrongs committed against us. With every overstepping by the government of our right to be secure in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, it becomes that much easier for the next step and the step after that. Without people there to say “No, this is not right!” it will continue until a day may come when this country no longer supports those principles which we claim to hold so dear.  Now is not a time to despair, however! There are avenues that are still available to us to tell those in charge how we feel.
Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and if you, like so many other of your fellow Americans, are outraged, for example, over the NSA’s unwarranted violation of your right to privacy, then you can say something. You can write a letter to the president, you can call your representative, or you can join in one of the many Restore the Fourth protests tomorrow around the country. I will leave you now with a quote from Margret Mead that I am sure we have all heard before, and something that we should all remember: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Just as the members of the Constitutional Congress did all those years ago, and just as thousands of groups have done throughout our nations history, we must hold both ourselves and our government to the highest standard.