With Liberty and Justice for All

With Justice and Liberty for All

David W. Hegg

Imagine if Abraham Lincoln were alive today, and presented his Gettysburg Address before a gathered audience. Imagine the response to his opening line. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”

Of course, most of the reporters in the audience would immediately fact check to find his dates are all wrong, this being 2017, and they would lead with that. Some activists would cringe at the offensive nature of saying the USA was a new nation given there were American Indian nations already living throughout the land. Pro-choice advocates would rail against his insertion of “conceived” as though creating a live was worth caring about. And his assertion humanity was “created” – clearly a religious, anti-scientific notion – would headline several articles declaring Mr. Lincoln too radical in his religious beliefs. But the greatest outcry would be against his insensitive, insulting, and discriminatory use of “men” as if women were not as equal as men. How dare he!

Across the nation, those who are ever vigilant to spot microaggressions – those imperceptible offenses only they can define -  would leap to the forefront of the supposed battle for equality. Honest Abe would become the newest enemy to those convinced the greatest freedom we have in America is the right never to be offended.

And they would miss the whole point of the speech. They would be clueless to the fact that meaning in every treatise or speech begins with understanding what the speaker intended the audience to understand from the words he used. They would interpret his verbiage through the grid of their own bias and be so fixated on using the speech to further their own agenda, they would hardly hear the rest of his words. They would miss the stirring rhetoric that has stood through the years as one of the greatest tributes to those who don the uniform and bear arms in defense of true freedom.

I bring this up as we look forward to Independence Day because I believe our nation is being hijacked by those who insist no one is free to think, believe, or express their views if there is any chance someone will be offended. They are bold in declaring the fight is against discrimination of any kind, and yet they are practicing the greatest form of discrimination possible … a prejudice against individual thought and expression unless it aligns with their ideology.

Since when do other people get to decide what I can think and say? And since when do they have the right to define what opinions I can have based on my age, sex, race, or religious affiliation? Since when is it right to lambast a Christian for holding Christian views, in a nation that has some level of Christian roots? Since when can you tell an African-American or a bald, Caucasian pastor, or a female college freshman what they must think? Believing a person’s sex, race, orientation, or religious commitment defines the acceptable limits of opinions they may hold is both prejudicial and reductionist. This may be the worst kind of discrimination.

Of course, it is never right to intentionally offend or demean others. And certainly, a good ethical foundation puts civility at the top of the list. But, the coin has two sides. It seems impossible not to offend those who walk around hoping to be offended, no matter how hard we try. And, it must be said, some people deserve to be offended given their views on how everyone else should think are laughable.  

When President Lincoln stood in the Gettysburg cemetery, he was championing real freedoms worth dying to protect. Mark this down. The right to go through life and never be offended is neither a right nor a rational expectation. No soldier would die for that, but many have died for the foundational belief that God has endowed each of us with basic human rights. We would do well not to let identity politics, and the thought police expand those rights to include making sure everyone thinks the same thing. If we do, you can be sure we’ll never see another Abraham Lincoln. He would simply be too offensive.