COMMENTARY: Celebrating Democracy on July 4th

It’s easy to get so caught up in the celebratory aspects of holidays that we forget what we’re celebrating. The 4th of July is more than a birthday party for the nation with lavish fireworks displays. It’s about honoring our fortune to live in a fundamentally great country.

Even today we’re engaged in the continuous task of refining a national definition of liberty that balances personal freedoms against various perspectives of a good society. So, in our best tradition, we invest in our highest court the responsibility to resolve the ultimate controversies that threaten our unity.

Recently, by divided votes, the Supreme Court exercised that responsibility and held that affirmative action in school admissions is permissible and that states cannot prohibit private homosexual conduct. Meanwhile, disputes about whether the Ten Commandments can be posted in public buildings and if the FBI should be allowed to search an individual’s library records are heating up.

Conflicting views of rights and responsibilities are inherent in the democratic process. But as important as each of these issues is to large constituencies of people, it is vastly more important that we have and support a method of peacefully and thoughtfully resolving deep disagreements of this sort.

As much as any of us may disagree with individual decisions, we should not doubt the wisdom of the process. What we should celebrate today is not simply our freedom from a foreign King but our collective willingness to subordinate personal views to a larger public will, as expressed in legislation and moderated by a court system empowered to apply the principles embodied in our Constitution.

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