Memorial Day is a sober reminder of the cost of freedom.
Through the centuries, millions of Americans have fought and died for a democracy built on the creed “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.”
Over the years, America has continued to strive to meet this lofty ideal. Because of this, our country is a unique force of good in the world. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright described America as “the indispensable nation.” This is the America I want for my children and grandchildren.
The protection of freedom of speech and association, religious liberty, and presumption of innocence have always been core principles in America. Americans have a shared loyalty to these tenets and the foundations laid out in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
In America, reasonable people may differ; open discourse is welcome; dissent is allowed; and equal opportunity is sought. In America, power resides in the free individual; the free exercise of religion is upheld; and our rights emanate from God. This is the America I want to continue for my children and grandchildren.
The abolition of slavery, the civil rights movements, and women’s suffrage would not have gotten far without freedom of speech and association. Suppressing speech has its greatest negative impact on people with the least. Frederick Douglass called free speech “the great moral renovator of society and government.”
America is not perfect but it is a nation that seeks to always improve. The abolition of slavery, civil rights, and women’s suffrage were perceived as offensive to much of the population at the time these ideas transformed America.
Advocates like Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall, and Susan B. Anthony did not try to silence their opponents. They knew the antidote to the suppression of speech is more speech. Their cause benefited from debate. I want an America of free speech and equal opportunity to continue for my children and grandchildren.
King said in his “I Have a Dream” speech, “we cannot drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred” and “we must conduct our struggle in the high plain of dignity and discipline.” For my children and grandchildren, I want to get back to the high plain of dignity and discipline when debating political perspectives.
More than any other time in my lifetime, people with political differences now replace tolerance with threats and too often treat others with disrespect. People are afraid to speak out because they fear being attacked for saying the wrong thing.
We now replace debate and discourse with a system of coerced opinion. For the sake of my children and grandchildren, I want to exchange the fear to speak out and censorship of the cancel culture for a return to a world of problem-solving built on discussion, debate, collaboration, and compromise.
The cancel culture is not new. It was present in the hearings of Senator Joseph McCarthy on communism in the 1950s. In response, Sen. Margaret Chase Smith said on the Senate floor, “Some of the basic principles of America include the right to hold unpopular beliefs and independent thought. Exercising those rights should not cause one single American citizen his reputation or his right to a livelihood, nor should he be in danger of losing his reputation or livelihood merely because he happens to know someone who holds unpopular beliefs. Who of us does not? Otherwise none of us could call our souls our own.” For our children and grandchildren, we need an active defense of our freedoms.
The ultimate nightmare is a slippery slope to greater intolerance and greater negative consequences to speaking out.
For everyone who spent adult years in the 20th century, this transformational idea of canceling and the creation of fear to speak out has been integral to the most destructive political systems in human history. Communism, Fascism, and the Third Reich all began with crushing dissent and building a cancel culture of fear.
There will be no resolution of America’s social problems if diversity of thought is enslaved. Freedom of thought, speech, association, and religious liberty is still strong in America. However, every day it looks more and more like these freedoms need active defense. I want an America with these freedoms for my children and grandchildren.
The antidote to the current hatred, bitterness, and resentment is in the wisdom of the ages. The recipe begins with a large helping of God’s important commandment of “loving your neighbor as yourself” and the Golden Rule of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
This wisdom is built on a foundation of tolerance and respect and topped off with a sprinkling of genuine listening, open discourse, and allowable dissent. This is the America I want for my children and grandchildren.
Dr. Phillip Rozeman is a practicing cardiologist. He is former board chair of the Greater Shreveport Chamber, Shreveport Medical Society, and has been honored as a recipient of the John Miciotto Lifetime Healthcare Achievement Award.