|America has never been the idyllic nation that the Pledge of Allegiance describes. The Confederate and Union soldiers who died during the Civil War would have denied that we are “one nation…indivisible.” Civil rights protesters who fought against racial discrimination during the 1960’s believed that America was hardly the democratic “republic” that it claimed to be. And throughout history, the enslavement of blacks, the massacre of Native Americans, the disenfranchisement of young people, and the subjugation of women have made “liberty and justice for all” seem like a farce.|
Today, America continues to fall short of realizing the ideals expressed in the Pledge of Allegiance. Healthcare is common but not universal; education is accessible but not excellent. Legal discrimination has been eliminated, but de facto segregation and prejudices based on race, gender, sexual orientation, and age are still common. We no longer suspend habeas corpus domestically during times of war, but in Afghanistan and Iraq we overstrain our troops and abuse our prisoners.
And yet I think that neither the author of the Pledge of Allegiance nor the Founding Fathers would be disappointed by the status of liberty and justice in our nation today. America may have not yet fulfilled its guarantee of liberty and justice for all persons, but the fundamental freedoms that are constitutionally ingrained in our political system ensure that the United States continues to progress towards true democracy. The beauty of the American political system is that it allows us, the citizens, to use our imperfect government to steer the nation towards that ideal state of “liberty and justice for all.”
When we recognize that immigrants are being unfairly encumbered in their pursuit of the American dream, we must exercise our freedom of speech and speak up on their behalf. When we suspect that the government is hiding information or lying about the war, we must employ the freedom of the press to investigate these falsehoods. When we see that religious minorities are being suppressed by an activist evangelical Christian faction, we must demand the freedom of religion promised to us in the first amendment to the Constitution.
Even with no idea of the challenges that future generations of Americans would have to face, the Founding Fathers were able to put, within our political system, tools to respond to the changing demands of liberty. We may not have all of the freedoms that, as citizens of the world’s leading democracy and as human beings, we should expect from our government; but we have enough liberties to make the eventual achievement of this ideal America possible. And I believe that so long as we continue to pursue “liberty and justice for all,” we will be able to make the United States the kind of country that is worthy of our allegiance.
Jessica Hom, First Place Winner
Ahh, those young 'uns and their darned persistent optimism...