With Liberty and Justice for… Who? ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

On Independence Day, USA

independence day united states-9

I love this country.  There have been times when I’ve actually gotten teary looking at the flag and listening to the “The Star Spangled Banner.”  Said ‘Star Spangled Banner’ has proudly waved on our house for years.  Like many, dare I say ‘most’ of us, I know every word of “God Bless America” and Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA.”  For most of my adult life I taught the Pledge of Allegiance, even though it was not required.  Yes, it was said every morning before school started and the kids knew the words, but they really didn’t know what they were saying, and so, being the Language Teacher I was, we had vocabulary lessons on the Pledge…..and that’s where the trouble began……

…..with liberty and justice for all.  LIBERTY???  Umm….  According to the dictionary, the word “liberty is defined thusly:

lib·er·ty  /ˈlibərtē/  1. the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political views.

…..with liberty and justice for all.  JUSTICE????  Umm……  According to the dictionary, the word “justice” is defined thusly: 

just/jəst/  adjective  based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.  Derivitive:  jus·tice /ˈjəstəs/ noun  1. just behavior or treatment.  “a concern for justice, peace, and genuine respect for people”

…..with liberty and justice for all.  ALL????  Umm……  According to the dictionary, the word “all” is defined thusly: 

All  /ôl/   predeterminer · determiner · pronoun:  used to refer to the whole quantity or extent of a particular group or thing.

Those three little words become problematic when we think of our history and our beloved country today.  If “All” means ‘the whole quantity,’ then doesn’t it stand to reason that “with liberty and justice for all’ means just that?  Everyone, all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief, socio economic status, or sexual orientation?  

Would I fight to defend this country?  Of course.  I actually tried when I was a much younger man.  But….. (Those of you who know me well know that there is always a ‘but’)…but I wasn’t allowed to do so…but for the history of this country, up until very recently, 10 December 2010 and the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” I would not have been allowed to do so.  

That pesky word, “liberty?”  That “free from oppressive restrictions” part? Scott and I were not allowed to get married until June of 2015.  Mixed race marriages were illegal in parts of the United States until 1967 when the Supreme Court ruled in the Loving v. Virginia case.  Where’s the “all” in that? 

Now, justice.  There’s a word for you.  We teach our kids to be ‘just’ when we teach them to be fair.  Pretty simple, right?  Until someone starts asking, “fair for who?”  Fair for the Native Americans to have to fight the government to keep the lands they have been promised? (The Department of the Interior surprised the Mashpee Wampanoag when it announced in March 2020 it was taking more than 300 acres of land.)  Where is the justice when our Black brothers and sisters are persecuted for just being Black? 

That little phrase, “liberty and justice for all.”  Huh.  Do we mean it? Really?  If you love this country as much as I do, shouldn’t we then, all of us, continue to fight for what this country stands for?  We cannot be content with the status quo. We cannot be content until there is truly liberty and justice for ALL people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religious belief, socio economic status, or sexual orientation.  Native American.  Black.  Gay.  Asian.  Jew.  Muslim, Christian. 

Oh.  Freedom for those groups?  Umm….  Religion?  Religion you say?  “But this country was founded on the Christian religion!” you declare.  Umm….not so much.  In fact, no, it most certainly was not.

The U.S. Constitution is a wholly secular document. It contains no mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ. In fact, the Constitution refers to religion only twice in the First Amendment, which bars laws “respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” and in Article VI, which prohibits “religious tests” for public office. Both of these provisions are evidence that the country was not founded as officially Christian. 

The Constitution that we hold so dear and pledge to defend says this: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;  — First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

And then there is the Treaty of Tripoli.  The Treaty is often cited, in discussions regarding the role of religion in United States government, for a clause in Article 11 of the English language American version which states that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion. 

So there is that. 

Now, speaking of religion….I dare say the biggest most of you reading this are Christians, coz, you know, the “friend” thing and the “Bishop thing” that I’ve got goin’ on here…..Let’s think a sec about what is said in the Bible about this “liberty and justice for all” thing….

“Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof…” These words are from Leviticus 25:10  and then:  Verse 17: “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God.”

Let’s skip over to Matthew 5:  Look at the fourth beatitude in verse 6:  [6] Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

The word “righteousness” often refers to uprightness, doing the right thing, obeying God’s rules. But the same word is also used for what in English we call “justice” and I believe that here that is exactly what Jesus has in mind.

And then there’s this little troublesome story: 

Luke 4:14-30.  14 And Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread through all the surrounding district.  15 And He began teaching in their synagogues and was praised by all.  16 And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and, as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read.17 And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written, 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, And recovery of sight to the blind, To set free those who are oppressed, 19 To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”  20 And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down;

If we, as Christians, are to follow Christ, are we not also called to preach the gospel, to proclaim release to the captives and to set free those who are oppressed? As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I need to be advocates for those who have no voice, advocates for those whose race or religion or country of origin causes them to be treated like people who do not matter. We need to be advocates for those who are perceived to be different, other, who don’t fit the mold.  For too long, these silent voices have suffered the pain of repressed indifference and that’s why they have broken out in protests of violence.  Are they right to raise their voice in violence? Of course not, but when we who are privileged fail to ensure liberty and justice for all, the silent voices don’t know what else to do than to get some attention through violence.  That’s why we need to be the voice of the silent. That’s why we need to advocate for those who are treated unjustly. When we advocate for those who are treated unjustly we don’t simply do something that’s politically correct.  When we advocate for those who are treated unjustly, we reveal ourselves to be followers of Jesus Christ Kinda sounds like liberty and justice for all to me.

LIBERTY and JUSTICE for ALL.  Think about it.  Do we try to maintain the status quo?  Or do we mean what we say and truly represent what this country stands for?  Think about it.

I wish each of you a most blessed 4th of July.