Let Freedom Ring
This week’s teaching theme is inspired by America’s independence which is celebrated on July 4th. But the season following the Summer Solstice is also the gentle and slow turn toward the darkness as we move toward fall and winter. This is officially mid-year, beloved friends, offering us a sacred portal to a deeper meaning. That is where the Holy greets us as we journey through this week toward America’s Independence Day.
As we often do when discussing historical events on this journey, let us spiral back to July 2, 1776 when the Continental Congress (later replaced by the U.S. Congress) voted to declare independence from England. On July 4, they voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence, which had been originally drafted by Thomas Jefferson, amended by a committee of five (including Benjamin Franklin) and put through additional revisions by the entire Congressional body. Battles with British troops had actually begun in 1775 and the Revolutionary War would continue until 1783 when America and Great Britain signed the Treaty of Paris on September 3, officially ending the war and granting American independence from England. The Declaration of Independence has a rich history with many stories deserving of your time and attention but today we’ll focus on its meaning and influence on human rights throughout American history.
“All men are created equal.” Five words that have inspired anyone who has resisted oppression based on race and gender. Pushback was always swift and immediate from the white male governing establishment. They were confident that the authors were referring to men such as themselves — white and free. Historians agree with this logic because at the time the Declaration of Independence was written, slavery was still an American institution (and would be up to the Civil War), and women had very few rights under the law. Despite all of that, leaders pressed on and claimed ownership of the phrase for all Americans. Abraham Lincoln would invoke it during the Gettysburg Address. It inspired a movement that in 1869, became the 15th amendment to the constitution, granting black men the right to vote. While it would be another 50 years before women, invoking the equality granted to them by the Declaration of Independence, would be granted the right to vote, the 19th amendment became ratified in 1920.
Given the time span between the 15th and the 19th amendment, it is obvious how vehemently the white male establishment resisted extending equality to women. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. would cite the Declaration of Independence in his “I Have a Dream” speech, setting in motion the civil rights movement that would be the precursor to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This law was designed to eliminate the obstructions that were in place to prevent blacks from registering to vote. Every step toward racial and gender equality has been met with virulent resistance when white men in power felt threatened by apportioning equal opportunity to others. They did everything to control the narrative of this country’s founding documents including citing scripture for justification of their dominance in societal and governing rule. The rest of America just didn’t agree, and change — albeit slowly — did come.
There’s always more to do. Racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia are all alive and well in America but… today we celebrate the brave men who penned the documents that set in motion the freedoms we enjoy. We celebrate the courageous people who understood that it was time for change – a change that welcomed more Americans to the table of basic and inalienable rights. We honor those who truly made the ultimate sacrifice — their lives — for standing up for their beliefs and shouting “no more” to oppression. We lift up our voices to the heavens and say “thank you.”
For if you are a person of color, female, Native American, an immigrant…in other words if you aren’t white and male…someone, a long time ago, rose up with the conviction of their faith, the wisdom of their ancestors and the courage to do what was right and said, “all men are created equal” means me…and you.