On the Fourth of July, we remember the birth of our nation and we need to reflect on the reasons our Founding Fathers broke with England and declared independence.
The issues that led up to the break were many and they developed over time. For some, it was “taxation without representation.” For others, it was “search and seizure laws” that seemed oppressive. For others, it was a matter of a motherland that was out of touch with her colonies.
Still others pressed for religious liberty and basic civil rights. The old system of authority, kings and royal hierarchy was moving toward a new system of “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” All people have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
One area of concern was the invasion of privacy. British soldiers, without warrant, could enter a home and search for whatever reason seemed important at the time. This violation of basic rights to privacy set the colonists’ teeth on edge.
They were citizens of the empire, but they felt like they were living in occupied territory. Their own government could deny them basic rights on any whim and whimsy.
The government loved the taxes paid by the people but provided those same people with little representation in the government or little recourse for abuses by heavy-handed state or military authorities.
At some point, tyranny crossed the line one too many times. The colonies organized and revolted. Militias formed and citizens not only protested but also took to the streets to fight the British soldiers and authorities.
Liberty was not some word in a song that inspired patriotic feelings. Liberty was the battle cry of a people in revolt. Liberty was a right that every natural born human deserved. Liberty was worth laying down one’s life, reputation and fortune.
And people did give all. Many died. Many lost every worldly possession they owned. Many lost loved ones and were driven from their homes and land.
Yet, the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness was worth the fight. And we now share those freedoms because of their convictions and sacrifices.
We look at Turkey and are encouraged by the secularists who are resisting a government that is slowly pushing for Sharia law. We watch the people of Brazil take to the streets to protest government corruption and we applaud their concerns.
Yet, our own government invades the private lives of every American citizen without warrant and we yawn. We somehow justify those abuses in the name of peace and prosperity.
As long as it involves someone else, the bad guys, I am willing to give up my basic rights to privacy. As long as the government keeps the terrorists out, I am willing to let them search and seize under the authority of a secret court.
The IRS has targeted Americans for political reasons and forced them to jump through hoops in order to receive tax-exempt status. The NSA has processed the emails and telephone calls of the majority of Americans without congressional oversight.
And now we find out that secret courts give permission to allow these practices to happen.
Necessary you say? We cannot allow terrorists to go unchecked? We must give up privacy and political beliefs in order to be true patriots?
Tom Drake tried to blow the whistle on the NSA abuses several years ago.
He reported to his superiors the violation of constitutional statutes by the NSA. He worked through the system and was arrested and charged with espionage. He finally was able to plead out on a misdemeanor charge but he lost his job and is blacklisted from working in his area of expertise.
Others have not been as fortunate. They are in prison because they tried to report governmental abuses.
The biblical story of Jacob and Esau is appropriate during this crisis of conscience in America.
Esau came in from the fields one day famished and weary. He told his brother to make up the stew or he would die. Jacob saw his advantage. “Sell me your birthright and I will give you the stew.” Esau sold it on the spot and gave away everything for the price of a temporary meal.
Americans have been given a choice. We are weary of war and the threat of terrorism. We just want it to go away.
The government comes along and says, “Fine, let me make it better.” The price is that you will have to give up your privacy for the sake of security. You must sell your birthright as an American citizen for a pot of safety.
What will it be? What price are you willing to pay?
Gregory Magruder is pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Gainesville, Fla.