Dr. Phillip Rozeman
Memorial Day is a sober reminder of the cost of freedom. Through the centuries, millions of Americans have fought and died for a democracy built on the creed “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and pursuit of Happiness”.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described America as “the indispensable nation”. Our country is a unique force of good in the world. This is the America I want for my children and grandchildren.
The founding principles of freedom of speech, press, assembly, protest, religious liberty, and presumption of innocence have always been core principles in America.
Americans have a shared loyalty to these tenets and the foundations laid out in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. These personal liberties undergird our democracy. We will not all share the same perspective but our freedom to express our opinion and work through our differences is a key American strength.
In America, reasonable people may differ; open discourse is welcome; dissent is allowed; and equal opportunity is sought. In America, power resides in the free individual; the free exercise of religion is upheld; and our rights emanate from God. This should continue for our children and grandchildren.
The abolition of slavery, the civil rights movements, and women’s suffrage would not have gotten far without freedom of speech and association. Suppressing speech has its greatest negative impact on people with the least. Frederick Douglass called free speech “the great moral renovator of society and government”.
America is not perfect but it is a nation that seeks to always improve. The abolition of slavery, civil rights, and women’s suffrage were perceived as offensive to much of the population at the time these ideas transformed America. Advocates like Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr, Thurgood Marshall, and Susan B. Anthony did not try to silence their opponents. They knew the antidote to the suppression of speech is more speech. Their cause benefited from debate. I want my children and grandchildren to live in a country with free speech and the right to protest.
Since the establishment of our democracy, polarization in politics has existed. But far too often today, people with political differences replace tolerance with threats. People are afraid to speak out because they fear being attacked for saying the wrong thing. As part of the cancel culture, we replace debate and discussions with a system of coerced opinions.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “we cannot drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred” and “we must conduct our struggle in the high plain of dignity and discipline”. For my children and grandchildren, I want to get back to the high plain of dignity and discipline and return to a world of problem solving built on debate, collaboration, and compromise.
For my children and grandchildren, I pray our country will not entertain any “transformative” ideas of governance that might usher in totalitarian political systems like that in Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, Castro’s Cuba, and Hitler’s Germany. Each began with a culture of intolerance and fear that crushed dissent. These totalitarian states were not a result of an outside conquering nation. These states were a result of falling from the inside.
When we stand up for the founding principles of America, we honor those who have fought and died for those principles over the last 250 years. We owe an active defense of our democracy to the millions of people who preceded us to fight for these freedoms. Even more, we owe our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren a strong American democracy.
There will be no resolution of America’s social problems if diversity of thought is enslaved. Freedom of thought, speech, association, and religious liberty is still strong in America and Memorial Day is a good day to commit to their active defense.
Dr. Phillip Rozeman