During the 1989 democratic revolutions sweeping the globe, in the Czech city of Prague, a common worker, tired of decades of Soviet oppression, rose at a meeting and quoted Jefferson’s Declaration, then called on his fellow countrymen to lay claim to their God-given liberties.
“Americans understood these rights more than 200 years ago,” said Zdenek Janicek. “We are only now learning to believe that we are entitled to the same rights.”
Americans certainly did understand those rights 200 years ago, as liberty was proclaimed from church houses to state houses across the burgeoning new country. “In a state of nature men are equal,” said Pastor Gad Hitchcock in a rousing sermon in Massachusetts in 1774, “exactly on a par in regard to authority: each one is a law to himself, having the law of God, the sole rule of conduct, written on his heart.”
“That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
As a nation we neither speak in those terms nor do we continue to think that way. We certainly did 200 years ago, but no longer.
Just like our ancestors, we must be jealous guardians of all our God-given freedoms, whether our rights to free speech and other forms of expression or due process protections in the criminal justice system. A police state and more power in the hands of government, for any reason, is never the answer to societal problems, even though more and more of our people find such a future appealing.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”