On Saturday, Americans will observe Independence Day, an annual rite celebrating the ideals of liberty upon which our country was founded.
Two-hundred and thirty-nine years ago, our founders pledged their lives, fortunes and sacred honor to create a new nation unlike anything that had preceded it. Their new nation was built on the belief that God endowed every person with rights that no government can deny whilst claiming to rule with any color of legitimacy.
Unlike the solemn occasion of Memorial Day, which commemorates loss, Independence Day is defined by the joy and optimism about America that motivated the Founding Fathers to take the risks they did in order to declare independence. This is why it is celebrated with so many cheerful customs — picnics, baseball games, back yard barbecues, parades, fireworks and patriotic displays of the American flag.
Even so, many of Americans' freedoms are under threat today. According to the Fraser Institute, the United States ranks 12th among countries in terms of its economic freedom, a decrease from past years that's due in part to a decline in property rights and a rise in the costs imposed by government on businesses.
Another First Amendment right under attack is the freedom of speech. According to Reporters Without Borders, the U.S. now ranks 49th in the world in terms of freedom afforded to the press, an alarming decline from 20th place in 2010. Among the countries whose journalists enjoy more freedom are Namibia, El Salvador and Burkina Faso.
The decline is a result of an increase in attacks on journalists by the public and law enforcement, threats against the press who refuse to reveal their sources, and the government's failure to pass a federal shield law protecting journalists.
In particular, Reporters Without Borders cites the Obama administration's prosecution of those who have leaked classified information to the press and its secret subpoenaing of the phone records of Associated Press phone lines, along with other First Amendment violations.
Americans' religious freedoms are also increasingly imperiled. A 2013 poll found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) believe religious liberty is on the decline in the U.S., and they are correct. Just witness the increasingly common position that government should sit in judgment of age-old religions' beliefs and morals, discriminating against adherents of religions whose beliefs do not reflect the current, transitory goals of government. This is not just the fevered contention of obnoxious secularists on Twitter, but an argument made in court in recent years by the Obama administration and, sadly, adopted by some Supreme Court justices.
As Scott Douglas Gerber notes in a Washington Examiner op-ed today, Justice Clarence Thomas's dissent in the same-sex marriage case was full of references to the Declaration of Independence. Thomas cited the Declaration, Gerber argues, because, like the Constitution, it was "predicated on a simple truth: One's liberty, not to mention one's dignity, was something to be shielded from — not provided by — the State."
America's great contribution to world political history was this insight, which subordinated the divine right of kings to the divine rights of every man. And this insight underpins so many of the things that make America what it is — the Bill of Rights; the rule of law; the admirable restraint shown by America's early leaders when they set the tone for peaceful transitions of power and civilian control of the military.
May this new birth of freedom never be lost.