The greatest strength of America is its founding principle: freedom.
The Fourth of July is a celebration of America's freedom.
On this, the first Independence Day since the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, the freedom on which this nation was founded is the subject of some debate. Striving to increase the safety of America, officials have enacted certain policies that some citizens fear will infringe on their rights. They are asking how far the nation should go in encroaching on freedom in the name of defending national security.
It's a good question and a healthy debate. Only in America could such criticism be tolerated, even encouraged.
More than most nations, America was founded on a principle. That principle, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, is that all people have a right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." It's what Americans call "freedom."
That principle of freedom is what America is all about. Laws are passed and enforced to support that principle, but laws are not what created and sustain this nation. The greatest strength of America is that guiding principle of freedom. It is what separates us from most other nations of the world. It is our touchstone that helps us determine the "right" thing to do. It is our nation's soul.
Unfortunately, the freedom that has guided America for more than two centuries is too easy to take for granted. We may think we can tamper with it from time to time without losing it altogether, but that is a dangerous assumption. If Americans are scared, maybe it's OK to arrest or detain someone because they might be a threat. So much for the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." Maybe it's OK to invade someone's e-mail or telephone conversations just to make sure they aren't a threat. So much for the principle of a right to privacy.
When this nation is engaged in a war, there may be times when such actions are justified, but these actions should be taken only when there is clear evidence of a serious threat to this country and its freedoms.
Today, we should all rededicate ourselves to getting back in touch with the strong and noble principles on which this nation was founded. Without those principles we are a lesser nation, a lesser people.
We can pass laws that restrict immigration and allow officers to monitor people's private conversations. We can allow more innocent people to be detained and accept additional invasions of our privacy as a new fact of life. We can take every legal avenue to protect our borders and then find that, in our efforts to save our country, we have sacrificed or weakened the one thing that makes our nation greater than any other in the world, the one thing that will allow America to weather any assault or adversity: the principle of freedom.
There must be laws and practices that protect this country, and citizens must understand that freedom doesn't include the right for an adversary to place this nation and its people in danger.
But now, more than ever, Americans have to stand on principle. There is no stronger defense against any foe, any attack, than the freedom that is the heart and soul of America.
It's a principle worth celebrating not only today, but every day of the year.