Every Fourth of July, our great nation celebrates Independence Day.
As a second generation American, I cherish the freedoms of America. I'm the grandson of a Russian immigrant. My grandfather came to the United States with his family through Ellis Island at the age of 14 – to escape religious persecution.
At a time when the fight for religious freedom is still very real in many parts of the world, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the unparalleled freedoms we enjoy as Americans.
We must never forget that it is our responsibility and duty to be vigilant and stand up for those freedoms – whether it's in court, Congress, or even the public square.
The Declaration of Independence changed the course of human history:
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
These first 106 words of the Declaration said something that no other document had ever said. Government exists to serve the people, not the other way around.
God gives us our rights, not the government. The Declaration of Independence pointed to far-reaching, fundamental truths tied to our faith and our relationship to God.
As Alexander Hamilton put it, “The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.”
Thankfully, our Founding Fathers and other great leaders throughout our nation’s history have realized this truth and fought hard, often even risking their lives, for this truth.
In 1981 in his first message commemorating the observance of Independence Day, President Ronald Reagan recalled the words of John Adams as he wrote to his wife Abigail after signing the Declaration of Independence:
[T]he anniversary of our independence should be observed with great fanfare: ``. . . with pomp and parades . . . shows and games . . . and sports and guns and bells . . . with bonfires and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, and from this time forevermore.''
Well, Mr. Adams, rest assured that what you wanted is being done. Your traditions are now ours, and we guard them like national treasures. And you know why. When we unfurl our flags, strike up the bands, and light up the skies each July 4th, we celebrate the most exciting, ongoing adventure in human freedom the world has ever known.
It began in 1620 when a group of courageous families braved a mighty ocean to build a new future in a new world. They came not for material gain, but to secure liberty for their souls within a community bound by laws.
A century-and-a-half later, their descendants pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to found this Nation. Some would forfeit their fortunes and their lives, but none sacrificed honor. . . .
What makes our revolution unique and so exciting, then, is that it changed the very concept of government. Here was a new nation telling the world that it was conceived in liberty; that all men are created equal with God-given rights, and that power ultimately resides in ``We the people.''
We sometimes forget this great truth, and we never should, because putting people first has always been America's secret weapon. It's the way we've kept the spirit of our revolution alive -- a spirit that drives us to dream and dare, and take great risks for a greater good. It's the spirit of Fulton and Ford, the Wright brothers and Lindbergh, and of all our astronauts. It's the spirit of Joe Louis, Babe Ruth, and a million others who may have been born poor, but who would not be denied their day in the Sun. …
As Dwight Eisenhower once said: ``There is nothing wrong with America that the faith, love of freedom, intelligence and energy of her citizens cannot cure.''
He was right. If we just stick together, and remain true to our ideals, we can be sure that America's greatest days lie ahead.
As we celebrate with family and friends, let us not forget the work we still have ahead, to remain true to our ideals, our faith, our love of freedom, and our God-given right to love our neighbors and make our communities safer, freer, and stronger for the next generations.
Our roadmap today is still the words of that Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. Much of our work at the American Center for Law and Justice involves defending the First Amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
The Constitution – a framework for freedom – is as vital today as when it was adopted by our Founders when this country was formed.
On this Independence Day, let's not forget that freedom is never free. Defending our freedoms – our way of life – requires sacrifice and vigilance – especially from those men and women in the Armed Forces. To the men and women around the globe – protecting our freedoms – thank you for your service.
Let's not forget that this Independence Day that we face very real enemies around the world who want nothing more than to destroy us and our entire way of life. These jihadists are working every day to extinguish our light and bring down our nation as a shining city upon a hill for all the world to see.
Most Americans understand what's at stake. They appreciate our country and our constitutional republic. And they understand we can no longer take those freedoms for granted.
As the grandson of a Russian immigrant – a fruit peddler in Brooklyn, New York – I want to thank those who came before us, those who paved the way, and those who now stand in defense of the United States of America – the greatest nation on earth.
God Bless you, your family, and our great nation. Happy Independence Day!
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