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Independence Day is a good occasion to consider the nature of freedom. The Declaration calls for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. FDR defined the four freedoms as freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from want or fear. English philosopher John Stuart Mill had a simpler idea. He said in effect one person’s freedom extends to where it inhibits someone else's.
In Grand Rapids, Minnesota, this July Fourth the parade organizers are not worrying about suicide bombers a world away. This morning’s patriotic flourish will unfold as it has for decades. Holiday candy, bunting, flags everywhere. Judy Garland’s childhood home is this northland city’s biggest attraction. It is modest and unspoiled, as serene as the Gale’s farmhouse before the winds began to whip. Elsewhere in America, in urban centers with airports, train and bus stations, with ballparks and other large places of assembly, our national post-traumatic stress disorder is heightened beyond its perpetual boiling point.
When we celebrate our freedoms today, many of us will not be free from fear. If not imminent fear, then the dread that some life-altering event will occur, as unchecked fanaticism, madness or hatred brushes up against us, as we pursue our lives, enjoy our liberties and seek out those feelings of joy and fulfillment which represent happiness.
As a nation, this now is our common cause: to change the circumstances by which we pursue our freedoms to dispel the fear gripping us. We achieve freedom by according those freedoms to other people who recognize our rights. And we achieve those freedoms by challenging those who seek to deprive us of them.