On July 4, 1776, representatives of the United States of America declared independence from the tyranny of Great Britain. Since that American Revolution, the battle for freedom has never really ended with nearly half-a-million Americans giving their lives in several wars to win or preserve our freedoms over the last 243 years. But how much do we cherish and value those freedoms?

Last week, on June 27, a group of teenagers went to one of the state parks on Kerr Lake. They asked the authorities if they could walk around the campsites and invite the campers to a church service. They were politely told that this would not be allowed by state regulations. Now, maybe this was an honest mistake by the state authorities, but it could also be a misunderstanding of the constitution that is being exploited for political purposes. Whatever the case may be, in that seemingly insignificant act, the right of free speech and free religious expression was stripped from American citizens, and the lives and sacrifices of those who died to preserve those rights were demeaned and trivialized. Today, in countless other situations around this country, our culture is quietly working to steal precious freedoms for which so many have died. And we, by remaining silent, offend and disrespect  the fallen warriors who fought to preserve these freedoms of religion and speech.

The U.S. Constitution strongly encourages the vibrant and unhindered expression of our diverse religious beliefs. It only restricts our government from establishing a “state” religion. Any religious expression by a private citizen is not only allowed, but is seen as integral to our free society. And yet, because of political correctness and the misguided obsession with not offending anyone, our state government has apparently trashed this freedom.

Lest anyone shrug this off as just an offense to Christians, consider that we are all religious creatures. We all worship someone, we all have our issues that we prioritize, and our passions that we defend. And whether it is the religion of Christianity or Humanism, when any religious expression is squashed, everyone’s dissenting opinion, everyone’s freedom, is lost.

There is a well-known expression, “Freedom is not free,” which honors those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom, but actually, we all play a role in this ongoing battle. While I cherish my Christian faith, it is critical that we respect and strongly encourage the expression of beliefs that may be completely different from ours. It is in this diversity of opinions that we see freedom in action; it is a demonstration of a culture that is vibrant and which truly understands liberty. Truth does not hide from confrontation, but rather rises to the top in an open and sincere conversation.  As individuals and as a nation, we will have to decide if we want “authorities” to tell us what we can say and how we can live. Do we have the courage of our forefathers, the commitment to once again stand up and fight for our freedoms?

STEVE BENDER

Warrenton