What It Means to Be An American

I’ve studied the Constitution of the United States more than once and I love what our founders put in place for future generations. The First Amendment is a particular favorite of mine: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Over the course of the 45 years or so that I have been politically aware, I’ve seen a real shift in the interpretation of this amendment. When I was young, the emphasis was on Freedom OF Speech and Freedom OF Religion. As a child I had to have it explained to me why the American Nazi Party was allowed to march and spread what I knew was hate speech even at that early age. It was a hard concept for me that they had a right to say those things in America and that this was something that the Constitution guaranteed. But I learned that for my freedoms to exist I had to extend those same freedoms to others. I learned to embrace the idea that in America I don’t have to agree with what you say, but I do have to defend your right to say it. I don’t have to agree with what you believe, but I have to defend your right to believe it.

Unfortunately this is an idea that seems to have been shouted down in favor of, “If I don’t like what you say, I have the right to shut you up.”

While that may seem harsh, there are so many examples I could cite. The Berkeley Riots to keep someone from speaking—however offensive he might be considered—is only the latest. That they succeeded in canceling out his right to speak is, to me, very un-American.

Let’s see how this is impacting religion. Again, as a child I was taught to believe that America was the bastion of Freedom of Religion, that one could believe and worship as he or she saw fit without interference. But then, something shifted. I see more and more people pushing the idea that they have the right to be free from others’ expression of their religions. From banning of Christmas trees to the insistence on the politically correct, “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas,” this trend has gone toward the suppression of religion rather than the freedom of it.

Exercise your religion, exercise your right to say whatever you honestly believe, dress however you want. I might disagree but I would never silence you or condone anyone else doing so. I am an American.

I am not a Christian, but there is no way I would be harmed by someone wishing me Merry Christmas. I embrace diversity. I don’t embrace enforced lack of diversity. If you want to wish me Happy Solstice, I’d be pleased that you’re wishing me good things. If you wish me Happy Easter, I’m all for it. If you want to wish me Happy Spring, awesome. If you want to wear a head scarf, yes, do. If you want to wear a crucifix around your neck, go for it.

It’s time we remember what America is all about. Freedom to speak, freedom to believe and freedom to worship are all part of what and who we are. Exercise your religion, exercise your right to say whatever you honestly believe, dress however you want. I might disagree but I would never silence you or condone anyone else doing so. I am an American. I believe in protecting human rights.

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