As a child, I remember learning the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star Spangled Banner. Mrs. Vater also taught us America the Beautiful and a number of other songs celebrating the joys and the virtues of being American.
During Monday's Veterans Day salute on the courthouse square, Dawn Hahn's third grade music students performed many of those same songs, and Mrs. Hahn explained that, as she teaches the children the music and words, she also explains to them the ideas and philosophies being sung about by the kids.
One of the wonderful things about being an American is our freedom to participate in our government in a number of ways (running for office, voting for candidates, commenting on how government is doing). The Bill of Rights enumerates a number of freedoms that we, as Americans, know about but don't always full understand. We have freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust searches, and freedom to possess arms.
Each of those freedoms comes with qualifications. And, while they are guaranteed rights codified in our Constitution, they also come with certain responsibilities. We have freedoms; but, we have to behave responsibly in order to enjoy those freedoms. One clear example is that, while we have freedom of speech, we do not have the right to stand up in a crowded theater and yell, "fire," thus endangering those in the audience.
Freedom of speech allows us to criticize our government and our elected officials. The caveat is that, while it is permissible and encouraged to participate in criticism of the parts of our government that aren't working, there are limitations. We are not allowed to call for the violent overthrow of those duly elected individuals, nor are we allowed to promote the death or harm to those same individuals, otherwise decent candidates would never run for office for fear of harm to their persons.
It is also considered in bad form to call for the dissolution of the republic. It has happened before, and led to a the bloody and sad era known as the Civil War. The states in the Union went through a long and arduous process in order to be admitted as a state. Once they become part of the United States, it is considered irrevocable, and the state and its citizens are forever guaranteed the rights and responsibilities as citizens, including defending the nation from all threats, "foreign and domestic."
Defense of our Union means working within the laws of the country to effect change. It means working, as a citizen, to obtain the laws, the leaders and the government that we feel we should have. And, it means accepting that we have to all work together to form a more perfect Union. We, as Americans, have been called the "melting pot" of the world. Though we have a native population, our citizens effectively all came from elsewhere. They immigrated from England, Scotland, Germany and Mexico. We were brought over as slaves or servants from Ireland, Italy, Kenya and Guatemala. We were used as labor after arriving from China, Japan, Australia, Russia and Chile. And, some of us sought better lives after leaving Cuba, Iran, Bolivia, Uganda and Spain.
We are a nation that promises those who arrive that, with hard work, honesty and perseverance, they can be an American. With the right attitude and the right choices, those arriving on our shores can become what they choose.
"Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free"
People die to get to America and to become Americans. Is there really any reason for Americans to want to give up those freedoms and those privileges?
Things don't always go the way I'd like for them to. Sometimes, people get elected that I think are horrible for our country. Sometimes, laws are passed that I think work against all that is embodied by the Constitution. And, I change those things by continuing to work within the guidelines of the Constitution and the laws of our land.
That is how to be an American.
It’s all just my opinion.