This month, Americans celebrate the 244th anniversary of our freedom. So, this is the perfect time to recall exactly what our forebears fought for. They did not shed their blood so that we could be free from rules but rather free to rule. As a nation of self-governing people, our desire was not to do away with rules but to be governed by good rules instead of bad rules. There was never a time when we debated the need for laws, but we wanted justifiable, life-giving laws, not laws that were mired in oppression and death.
As the years pass, we can forget that we did not, in the same breath, separate ourselves from the government of Great Britain and agree on how we would govern ourselves. On the contrary, it took our newly formed country 12 tough years between the time we declared ourselves free from English rules (the Declaration of Independence) and our final agreement about which rules we would live by (the ratification of the Constitution).
This is not to suggest that for those 12 years people did whatever they liked. In fact, there was never a time when the United States was without governing prescriptions. Between the Declaration and the Constitution, the 13 original “states” agreed to abide by the Articles of Confederation. The problem was that these articles were fashioned to have the states act more like 13 separate countries rather than “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all!” It took 12 years of rational debate before e pluribus unum—from many into one—moved from a mere motto into a matter of fact.
What we are really celebrating this month is that from the very beginning Americans wanted to respect individuality, the 13 original states, but also prosper by helping each other become the 13 (now 50) United States. For nearly 2½ centuries we have been a nation of people acquiring long-term freedom by fashioning law-abiding formulas. Our liberty lives in our laws.
What would team sports look like if each player decided to play the game by his or her own rules? Football, basketball or baseball might seem hilarious at first, but after 10 minutes we would be bored by the anarchy and angered by the confusion. Without rules there would be no freedom to compete fairly nor pride in the thrill of a victory. In fact, every play, match or score would be tantamount to capricious nonsense and result in the agony of defeat for everyone. A country without laws is nothing more than a collection of individuals who believe might makes right. The result is immaturity not independence and license not liberty.
Holy Homework: Sometime during this month which celebrates our united, free nation, let’s take the time to read and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the laws enumerated in the first 10 amendments to our Constitution, the “Bill of Rights,” which could also be called the “Laws that Guarantee Liberty.”
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