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The Meaning of Freedom

Like you, I’m relaxing with my family this Independence Day. And this Fourth of July, more than others in recent memory, I also have our nation and the gift of our freedom on my mind.

In particular, I’m thinking about a young American serviceman named Michael Martino — what he died to preserve for us and what an activist judge is now denying him.

Memorialized Beneath a Cross

Michael Martino was killed in action in Iraq last November when his Cobra helicopter was shot down by the enemy. So last month, members of Captain Martino’s Camp Pendleton unit dedicated a plaque in his honor in his hometown of San Diego. It was placed under the 43-foot cross that forms the centerpiece of a memorial on Mount Soledad honoring veterans of all wars.

That day, more than 300 Marines stood in line for more than three hours to pay their respects to Michael Martino’s parents. But today, the Martinos are being forced to plead to President Bush to save the Mount Soledad cross and their son’s memorial.

Freedom of Religion, or Freedom From Religion?

You see, 17 years ago, an atheist charged that the 52-year-old cross was a violation of the so-called wall between church and state. In 1991, a federal judge agreed. For the past 15 years, everyone — from private groups to the federal government — has tried to save the cross of Mount Soledad, but each time, an activist judiciary has stood in the way.

Last year, a proposition designed to save the cross by transferring ownership from the City of San Diego to the federal government gained the support of 76 percent of voters. But the left-liberal secularists managed to find another judge to declare the referendum itself unconstitutional.

Today, time is about to run out for the preservation of the Soledad Cross. A federal judge has ruled that the City of San Diego has until August 1 to remove the cross or face $5,000 a day in fines.

All of which should have us asking ourselves this Independence Day: What did Michael Martino give his life for? Freedom of religion? Or for freedom from religion? And how long will our other rights be secure if left to the whims of secular activists and unelected judges?

Our Freedom Comes from Our Creator

The most consequential words for human freedom ever written are taken from the Declaration of Independence. They are, of course:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

This revolutionary proclamation — that our rights come from our Creator — is both the beginning and the heart of American Independence. It has preserved our freedom and our union from the Revolution, through the Civil War, the women’s suffrage moment and the civil rights movement until today.

But what about the future? As I mentioned in my first Winning the Future message to you back in April, the future cannot be left to chance. The future must be won.

The Price of Freedom

One of the greatest challenges we face is defending the unique civilization that the revolutionary declaration of our founding has produced. This challenge has become even greater, thanks to the foolishness and arrogance of the New York Times.

As you probably know, the Times took it upon itself to reveal the existence of a classified anti-terrorism program we have been conducting since 2001 to monitor overseas banking transactions. Its purpose is critical: to follow the money that feeds the terrorism of the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam. The program was legal, and members of Congress — from both parties — had been briefed on its existence.

As usual, the Times has used the well-worn argument of the “public interest” to justify this non-story. But in a remarkable letter to Managing Editor Bill Keller, Treasury Secretary John Snow eviscerates this tired argument with a higher “public interest”: “What you’ve seemed to overlook is that it is also a matter of public interest that we use all means available — lawfully and responsibly — to help protect the American people from the deadly threats of terrorists.”

The New York Times does indeed have, as it repeatedly tells us, the constitutionally protected right of the free press. But it also has an obligation to be a responsible — yes, even patriotic — press. It has an obligation to consider the cost to freedom of its actions.

‘The Mystic Chords of Memory’

The challenges America faces this Independence Day remind me of the challenges the United States faced back in 1861. Then, following Abraham Lincoln’s election as President in 1860, seven states of the deep South left the Union. The border states were on the verge of joining them. The Union that Lincoln would eventually give his life for was disintegrating before his eyes.

In the midst of this challenge, Lincoln delivered his first inaugural address. It closes with an eloquent appeal to patriotism — for all Americans to remember what was at stake in the gathering violence:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Today we face a new threat to our Union. The long war against the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam will sometimes be fought on the battlefield of war. But more often it will take place in our words and our actions as a free people.

Do we have the courage to defend our civilization from secularists who are intent on driving God from the public square? Will we remember the “public interest” that trumps our politics and our personal ambition: the preservation of our nation and our freedom?

I am confident that we will. We will win the future. And the “mystic chords of memory” that bind us together as a nation will see us through our current challenge and challenges yet to come.

God Bless you on this Independence Day,


Newt Gingrich

Ask Newt     

Each week, this newsletter features questions from its readers. Have a question? Send an email to Newt at asknewt@newt.org.

Q: You have worked with liberals like Hillary Clinton, Ted Kennedy and Patrick Kennedy on healthcare issues. These are the same people and the same party that tried to nationalize healthcare in the 1990s. Have you embraced their philosophy, or have they embraced yours?

Carolina M.
Kensington, Md.

A: Thank you for the question, Carolina. I have definitely not embraced the big-government approach to healthcare reform. Markets will transform healthcare if they are allowed to flourish. We will undoubtedly see more choices of greater quality at lower costs.
Regarding the politicians you mentioned, I want to work with anyone who is passionate about transforming health and healthcare in America. Take the issue of health information technology as an example. All three, like me, are passionate about bringing healthcare into the 21st Century through technology. Each has introduced federal legislation to move this process along and has forcefully pushed the issue. Both publicly and privately, I’ve worked with them and many other like-minded Democrats to make transforming health through technology a reality.

We can always find differences — vast differences — on issues like immigration, judicial appointments, cutting taxes and modernizing government. But where we find agreement, we need to work together. In fact, we owe it to the country.

Written By

Mr. Gingrich is the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and author of To Save America: Stopping Obama's Secular-Socialist Machine, Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works and Winning the Future (published by Regnery, a HUMAN EVENTS sister company).

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