The Declaration of Independence: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right

Our Declaration of Independence proudly states, “We the people…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.” On July 4th, we celebrate our country’s defiance of unfair laws imposed by the British colonial power. We have to remember that what the American colonists did was treasonous at the time.

What will it take for us to have current sight, rather than hindsight?

When we look back at history, we celebrate people who had the courage to resist abhorrent laws. But at the time those people put their own lives and livelihoods on the line to do what they knew was right. It’s with hindsight that we recognize and honor their courage. In his lifetime, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was arrested 29 times for fighting for those inalienable rights. Now we have a national holiday for him.

What Nazis did was legal at the time

The vile things the Nazi government did were perfectly legal. A cruel, inhumane government passed cruel, inhumane laws. They forbid Jews to own businesses, to use public parks, to attend schools, to walk freely in the streets. They then passed the laws to deport and commit mass murder of Jews, of people with disabilities, of Roma…And ordinary people, just by doing their jobs and living their lives as law-abiding citizens participated in atrocities.

Today we honor government officials of the World War II era like Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, Aristides de Sousa Mendes of Portugal, and Chiune Sugihara of Japan. They provided unauthorized transit papers, passports or visas to Jews desperate to escape annihilation during the Holocaust. They each suffered for their decency. Sugihara and Sousa Mendes lost their careers and had to do menial jobs to support their families. Wallenberg was captured by Russians and imprisoned as a spy. Sugihara and Sousa Mendes never regretted their actions. They saw people suffering and did what they thought was right.

I believe that we all have choices and should think carefully about how to behave when confronted with laws that are cruel and unjust.  So, as we celebrate Independence Day on July 4, let us all hold ourselves accountable to the highest laws of decency.


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