Recently, a letter from a community member attacked an event where critical questions were asked about American history and injustice, and challenged this as unpatriotic. However, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth.
In 1776, our nation did not allow for all people, or even all men, to be seen as created equal. Most states only allowed landowning white males to vote, and religious restrictions against Catholics, Jews, and others were not uncommon; in some states, more than half of the adult population was eliminated from eligibility.
Another matter of fact: Thomas Jefferson wrote a clause for the Declaration of Independence condemning the British for introducing slavery to America, yet it was removed for political reasons. The institution thrived, and over 80 years later, the Supreme Court declared certain people "are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides....". Even the most lethal conflict in American history could not undo the catastrophic legacy of those words.
Nor are these the only examples of our struggle with injustice. When Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, the intent was to unite Americans; however, this did not keep it from being misused. Christian children who politely refused to say the pledge in observance of their personal faith found themselves expelled and their parents fined and imprisoned, due to a majority weaponizing these words to silence a minority.
Some take offense to discussing these facts; however, it’s through reflection and perseverance that we appreciate the full measure of our freedoms. We are not perfect, nor should we be surprised when our institutions are also flawed. If we are to draw inspiration from the Declaration of Independence, we cannot run from addressing our flaws, but must embrace the struggle.
The Founders declared that when a government abuses its people and injures their liberties, “it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” America was born from the belief that no government or institution is beyond accountability, and that the people are inherently gifted with the power to compel the change needed to combat injustice.
A government which declares its past to be infallible will create a future that is intolerable. Through denial of past discrimination, it will pave the way for tyranny. Through ignorance of past inequities, it will burden the growth and prosperity of its citizens. Through suppression of discussion, it will bind future generations to live in a land that is less free.
True respect for our American heritage comes not from silencing conversations, misrepresenting facts, or ignoring injustice, but through a commitment to pursue an ideal that may be beyond our ability to immediately reach. Only through honest reflection and brave compassion can we pursue a standard that preserves our freedoms. That is the true national legacy, and our American duty.