This Fourth of July is different

Published 8:32 am Monday, July 6, 2015

Last month, Americans of every race, religion and region gained a better understanding of the historic evils the Confederate flag represents — slavery, secession and segregation. We enter this July with a deeper appreciation of the historic promise the American flag represents, a flag that our school children pledge allegiance to each morning: “One nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

The Supreme Court decisions upholding fair housing, health care reform and a new constitutional right for marriage equality are milestones on the journey to a stronger, more inclusive America. These landmark decisions validated the America that Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of in his “Four Freedoms” speech.

Two of those freedoms are “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear.” In today’s world, we cannot possess “freedom from want” without having access to health care. Nor can we have “freedom from fear” when people are driven to secrecy, wrapped in silence about who they are, how they live and whom they love.

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To understand the two very different visions of America, we only have to read the harmony and lyricism of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion, writing for the majority, on marriage equality — and contrast it with the bitterness of Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissent, discordant and derisive of both plaintiffs and his fellow justices.

This 4th of July, I’m reminded of Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence. On the wall of his memorial are inscribed four quotes, one of which has special relevance this particular July 4th:

“Laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind,” he wrote. “We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

There was a time in our society when its laws denied marriage to heterosexuals, specifically, interracial couples, prisoners and fathers who fell behind on child support payments. The Supreme Court removed these marriage bans, holding marriage to be a fundamental need of individual liberty and human existence.

This most recent ruling, despite alarmists saying it presages persecution of Christians, does not stop those religiously opposed to same-sex marriage from expressing themselves and continuing a public debate. It does not stop them from arguing “with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

But let’s not fret. This ruling does not threaten the institution of marriage by any means. In fact, it only strengthens it with the increased inclusivity that deems love is love. There’s nothing immoral or wrong about being in love and having the ability to express it.

Besides granting the freedom of intimate association and of forming a family, the court’s ruling brings the normalcy of marriage and an acceptance to millions. Is there a family or person without one cherished relative, friend or neighbor not affected by this ruling?

Similarly, the justices, by a lopsided majority, freed millions of Americans from wanting health protection, and freed them from the fear of illnesses that come with unaffordable medical expenses or costly cures. And it ensured that millions of Americans would not have to worry about losing their health insurance.

Although members of Congress and several Republican candidates for president will continue to oppose the Affordable Care Act, repealing it without an alternative will unleash a huge backlash. As the justices pointed out, it was but four words in a sub-sub-sub section of the tax code that, if interpreted standing alone, would have upended the sole purpose that the framers of Affordable Health Care sought: the widest possible coverage for all.

Why would Congress write 900 pages of law, only to completely undo its intended purpose with an unartfully worded regulation as we saw with Scalia’s dissent?

We enter this Fourth of July in the same way the Fourth of July ended in 1863 at the Battle of Gettysburg — with the retreat and eventual lowering of the Confederate flag.

The Confederate flag does not represent a state; it does not even represent a region; it represents, in one Confederate’s words, “a new government founded on exactly the opposite ideas,” of the Declaration of independence.

A state has the sole authority to choose its flag. As a common sense matter, especially in a democracy, a flag should represent the values of the whole. While to some the Confederate flag represents family members who fought for the Confederacy, the flag’s purpose was to distinguish itself from, and contrast itself with, the fundamental principle on which this union was formed, “a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

It is the duty of legislators to lower a flag because it does not reflect a common unity and values. It is, as well, the state’s right to decide what it wishes to endorse on its license plates, representing the state as a whole to the rest of the world.

We have this July 4th a “new birth of freedom,” not just for the few, but for “we the people.” Let’s enjoy the moment. May God bless America forever.

Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.