July 4th: Independence Day, a day of patriotic celebration, is our “great anniversary festival,” as John Adams put it 237 years ago. He stated the purpose very clearly: “It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance.”
Many families typically enjoy this national occasion with a cook-out during the day and watching fireworks at night. But it is also a time when elected officials and other public figures give speeches extolling American traditions and values. Across the nation, civic leaders and citizens give thanks for the freedom and liberties that the founding generation won for all Americans.
Then again, some of us may find it hard to find much to cheer about as we watch what goes on in the three branches of our Government. Let’s begin with the House of Representatives. For those of us closely following the Farm Bill, it was disheartening to see that House leadership could not hold it together to pass a bill after bringing it to the House floor for a vote.
I don’t mean to suggest that the bill they had in hand, along with its damaging amendments, should have been passed as is. But why such a flawed bill was brought to a floor vote does not make anyone look very good. NCRLC will continue to push our elected representatives to pass a new Farm Bill this year. However, we are in the dark with everyone else in seeing how this can happen given the political impasse in the House.
On the Senate side, there were more hopeful signs of a functioning body of legislators. In late May they passed their version of a new Farm Bill; and then this past week they passed an Immigration Reform bill that required some degree of bipartisanship. Somehow the Senate agreed to move forward with what they could, and that provides some encouragement in how our political system can work for the common good.
Unfortunately, that legislative process now flows to the House. There is no indication they will move on Immigration Reform anytime soon and, in fact, are likely to ignore the Senate bill for the time being. During the Fourth of July recess, they will no doubt hear from their constituencies in their home districts. My guess is that they choose to listen to those who will harden their political posturing rather than open their eyes to compromise and, I must say, compassion for immigrant families.
Turning to the Executive Branch, we have President Obama recently announcing he would use his executive powers to require reductions in the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the nation’s power plants. This is not just reducing pollution in the atmosphere as we’ve done for other harmful industrial emissions, but preparing the nation for a future of rising temperatures. It is increasingly evident that the Government needs to act on global warming.
Despite that, Republicans were quick to condemn the regulatory measures, saying they constituted a government overreach that would constrict energy production and strangle the nation’s economic recovery. Then again, maybe these initial executive actions will open the door to eventual Congressional action on global warming. Or is my hope here well beyond reason?! It will be tragic if the few who cannot see what is happening will end up hurting us all.
Finally, the Judiciary branch: Two Supreme Court decisions dramatically revealed how politically partisan this bench has become. Depending on your own political leaning, the decisions brought into harsh light how we weigh fairness and equality in our modern society.
One was the 5-4 decision striking down a key component of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, jeopardizing equal justice under the law especially for black, Hispanic, and low-income people. A commentary in Sojourners online said the Supreme Court’s decision was “morally shameful”. Their admonition is that the church cannot ignore this issue; pastors must preach the power of the Gospel.
In the other highly covered Supreme Court outcome, the bench in another 5-4 decision struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional and discriminatory against same-sex couples. Whereas Church leaders and many Catholics are clear in their support of traditional marriage, it appears that people of faith as a whole and our culture in general are divided on the issues surrounding marriage equality.
I realize I am wandering into a highly charged issue that might lead to an exchange of heated personal opinions — something this blog is not able to accommodate. My aim is not to provoke anyone, but to show that our national path of liberty, equality and fairness is much more problematic than our annual Independence Day celebrations would otherwise portray.
So as we pause halfway through the year to celebrate our freedoms, let us remember that our political wrangling is meant to work things out, not tie things up. Democracy is not only the promise of freedom and liberty, but peace among fair-minded citizens. Let us pray that we as individuals first find peace in our own hearts and minds, then go forth and work together for the common good.