July 4th is coming

I’ve said I don’t like to get political on my blog, and I don’t think I will too much here, but July 4th is tomorrow. As I told my daughter, in simple terms, that’s the birthday of our country (even though it’s probably not quite the right date). July 4th always brings up the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and names like Ben Franklin, John Hancock, George Washington, John Adams. Our illustrious Founding Fathers — or are they traitors?

Don’t rise up in anger, because from one point of view — that would be the British — they are indeed traitors. They are a group of people who led an insurrection against their government. Funny thing is, this isn’t even a big deal to the Brits. With the empire they had, it’s about a footnote in history. Also, don’t get me wrong, because I’m quite happy that these men did what they did and that we are an independent country. I think we have a good system going, despite its faults, and I hope it continues that way.

I used to work at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA, or as we called it, the Archives). In a bit of irony, their website is down today; I hope they’re working on having it up tomorrow, of all days. (For any history buffs or geeks, there is a “Document of the day” app available from Apple; you might want to try it out.) Having worked there, I have something of a soft spot for both the Constitution and the Declaration.

And interesting fact I learned was that in the event of an emergency (wonder if Roland Emmerich got this in White House Down), the Declaration receives priority in being saved, over the Constitution? It makes sense if you think about it. The Constitution sets out the framework for our government but the Declaration is what makes us our own country. The framework doesn’t work without a country to govern. (More fun facts on the Declaration are here.)

So with July 4th on the horizon, and Supreme Court decisions raining down and Wendy Davis filibustering in Texas and Edward Snowden reprising Tom Hanks’ role in The Terminal, these documents are on my mind, mostly the Constitution. No one’s trying to amend the Declaration, after all.

My friends in Canada who follow U.S. politics even a little are amazed at the pull the religious right/Tea Party groups have over politics. Frankly, I’m annoyed that the Republican party, which is especially beholden to these groups, is on one hand anxious to get government out of our lives but on the other intent on nosing into our bedrooms and bodies. If you want government to leave you alone, then it has to be all the way, and it’s even more disturbing that some people want to get government out of the macro picture but keep it in the micro picture.

These issues are ones I ponder because a) I’m a woman and b) I have degrees in Russian Area studies. In college, I spent a lot of time studying Russian government and history and so although it wasn’t a first-person experience, I’m very conscious of what happens when some in government are intent on making an “us v. them” theme. I remember one of my professors telling us that back in the Soviet Union, his uncle once told a joke about Stalin. Soon after, his uncle disappeared.

Think about that. One man out of millions told a joke, presumably among friends, and yet somehow that show of “disrespect” found its way back to someone in a position of authority, and the man was gone. That’s what can happen when government is unchecked.

I do not think we are anywhere near that point, but I do fear the religious overtones that are rising in many states. One of the things I think is best about our government is that there is — or should be — a wall between Church and State. If you wish to be religious, then fine. But if I do not wish to be, then you cannot force it on me. Nor can I force my beliefs, religious or otherwise, on you. Yes, we were founded by Christian men (and surely the women who supported them), but they were not evangelical, fundamentalist Christian men. Some of them weren’t even churchgoers.

I was very disturbed, for example, to read the other day that in Pennsylvania, a member of the state house prevented another from speaking on DOMA. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe used some procedural rules to do prevent Rep. Brian Sims from talking, but his motivation was:

“I did not believe that as a member of that body [the PA House] that I should allow someone to make comments such as he was preparing to make that ultimately were just open rebellion against what the word of God has said, what God has said, and just open rebellion against God’s law,” Metcalfe said.

You know what, that’s just wrong. Utterly wrong. And it has no place in any of our houses of government at any level. Rep. Metcalfe is of course entitled to his religious (or any other) beliefs but he has no right to use those beliefs to silence anyone else. And if he does, then shouldn’t it work the other way? If someone is an atheist, shouldn’t they be able to block Rep. Metcalfe from speaking if it violates any perceived “atheist law”?

The country is changing and I have no doubt that that change scares a lot of people, especially older people, say of my parents’ generation. When you consider how the world has changed in leaps and bounds, on social and technological fronts, since the end of World War II, it’s incredible. We have gone from ENIAC and computers that ran on vacuum tubes and took up an entire room to iPads and Galaxies that would be quite at home on Star Trek. We have gone from laws that made blacks less than full citizens to enacting a Civil Rights Act to electing a mixed-race president. We have gone from a world where women stayed home to where they run for the offices of President and Vice President (remember Geraldine Ferraro?).

But trepidation about change should not mean doing a complete 180 and trying to take away the rights that we have earned or even discovered along the way. That is not right and it is not fair. We all have rights and if we respected them, even if we don’t like them, things might move along a little better.

So I hope tomorrow you enjoy your right to a hamburger or hot dog and some fireworks. 🙂 Happy 4th!

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