Independent Thought on Independence Day

With all of its flaws and opportunities for improvement, what is great about America is the ideal, enshrined in its founding documents, that all of its citizens are free to believe and practice as they choose.

There are those who believe at this moment that America's independence is not something to celebrate. They are highly attuned to the oppression that mars our history and the bias and inequity that continue to exist even now. They do not want to celebrate America until all of its citizens can do so with the same enthusiasm. Their concern for the disenfranchised is admirable, and they are certainly entitled to their decision not to celebrate.

There are others who recognize the imperfection of this country but who believe in the lofty principles on which it was founded, and they celebrate the haven of liberty and opportunity that America has provided to those fleeing oppression elsewhere. They want to express their gratitude for all that they have in spite of the reality that there is still, and will alway be, work to be done.

While it is healthy for there to be dialogue and even debate between these diverging perspectives, what is not healthy is for either side to impose its beliefs and judgments on the other. "Here's how I see it" is very different from "here's how it is." Even worse is "if you don't see it my way, then you are either ignorant or morally perverse."

What is troubling at this moment is the bullying that characterizes so much of the public discourse. Those who wish to celebrate the 4th of July should not be shamed for doing so, and those who choose not to should be able to refrain without being decried as traitors or unpatriotic. The freedom to choose is what is best about this country. It must be accompanied by the willingness to respect those who choose differently.

As one of the hotly debated issues at this moment is the role and future of the police, we must be at least as critical of the "thought police" who are patrolling our opinions and limiting the freedom of our perspectives. The corrupt elements within the police forces around the country must be rooted out. But we also must not allow overly aggressive and biased ideology-cops to violate our basic rights to independent thought and belief. Violence and injustice against blacks and any disenfranchised member of our national community is an affront to our entire system. The intellectual violence of thought-control threatens the foundations of democracy and endangers the liberty that every one of us ultimately desires.

Regardless of one's customs, beliefs and celebratory observances (or lack thereof) this Independence Day, perhaps the best way to commemorate the founding of this country is to take some time to consider and internalize the profound virtues on which it was established. It will only be "a more perfect union" when we truly embrace diversity in unity, and when we respect our neighbors' right to think and be different from ourselves.