On Saturday, July 4, we celebrate Independence Day, when the people of the original 13 colonies of the Americas declared their independence from Great Britain. The signing of the Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest of all political documents, was actually the easy part. The Revolutionary War then was fought to make the words of the Declaration a living reality. As has been stated so many times, “Freedom is not free.” The United States has had to fight a number of wars throughout its history to preserve its freedom and to help others to achieve freedom.
In the present environment in our country, as we celebrate Independence Day, we are more conscious than usual of aspects of our history that are less than honorable. The words of the Declaration of Independence that proclaim that “all men are created equal” sear our national conscience, as we recognize that everyone was not included in this statement. America was founded on the genocide of the Native American people and on the enslaved labor of African Americans. Even after the freeing of the slaves, the Jim Crow era (the American apartheid) continued to deny them equality and inflicted great violence on them.
Women and men who did not own property were also not recognized as sharing in that “equality.” Women did not gain the right to vote until 1920. Later groups, Hispanics and Asians in particular, were denied true equality before the law, as were people of LGBT orientation. (Although the Church teaches that homosexual acts, like many other sexual acts, including contraception, cannot be Biblically supported, she teaches that homosexual persons are to be recognized as sons and daughters of God, created in His image and likeness, and are to be guaranteed the same dignity and rights as anyone else,)
White men who owned property were the only ones guaranteed that right to freedom and equality. Every other group has had to fight to gain the same rights as granted from the beginning to them, and they are still fighting for those rights. The beautiful ideals of the Declaration of Independence are still in the process of becoming reality for many of our people. We also need to include in this, our unborn brothers and sisters, whose right to life is not respected and guaranteed.
It is easy for many of us to not see the discrepancies between the promise and the fulfillment. Those of us, like myself, who have lived our lives with “white privilege,” are not necessarily quick to recognize that things are not necessarily the same for others as they are for us. Many have a steeper hill to climb and face obstacles and difficulties that we do not. We must recognize this.
From the beginning, there have been those who have called for the words of the Declaration of Independence to be truly applied to all of our people. Too often their voices have not been heard, and they have felt the need to speak louder and more militantly, hoping to be heard. Some have unfortunately turned to violence in order to gain a hearing.
Recently, I quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who, while denouncing violence as he always did, stated that, “A riot is the voice of the unheard” and that racism and social injustice against people of color are also forms of violence that must be condemned.
Will we listen, hear and understand now? Will we, even as we denounce violence in all its forms, commit to taking the knee from the necks of all of our oppressed brothers and sisters? If we do not hear and do not do whatever is necessary to guarantee genuine freedom and equality under the law to all Americans, than the next time the voices will be louder, and tragically, more violent.
Let us celebrate this Independence Day by working together to make some of the most beautiful and powerful words ever written become a reality for all of us. May this Fourth of July be the greatest celebration of freedom and equality our nation has ever known, as we put racism, and all forms of injustice, behind us.
— Fr. Mike Comer