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Letter: ‘Land of the Free and Home of the Brave; Do We Still Believe It?’

Our Declaration of Independence and our Bill of Rights were written by men well-schooled in the ideas of the French and Scottish Enlightenments. They were men who respected human reason and who despised superstition, prejudice and ignorance. These European intellectuals were in awe of Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Paine, and all Americans whom they had previously mocked as “Yankee Doodles.”

They saw that despite our being in the midst of a war for our very existence, we calmly, humanely and bravely proclaimed, “all men are created equal...with certain unalienable, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Is that just ancient history or are we still the awesome people who sing of their land as the “land of the free and the home of the brave?”

We fear we are becoming something less.

We read of firebombing of homes, houses of worship and stores. New York City police are now authorized to infiltrate congregations outside their jurisdiction even when no member of those congregations is linked to any criminal activity. Congress has passed and the president has signed legislation ordering the military to arrest without charges and indefinitely incarcerate anyone, even American citizens, accused of terrorist activities. How do these actions differ from the policies of the police states we only recently preached against?

Unfortunately, we have abrogated habeus corpus and the due process protecting our liberties in the past. Each time we forgot our legacy of freedom because of our fears, hates and prejudices. Our treatment of Native Americans, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans brought shame on our beloved country and we are doing it again. This time we are stereotyping our Muslim and Hispanic neighbors and they are not alone in being targets of hate: Hindu and Sikh temples have also been the focus of attacks. So was a Christian church in Levittown and a Jewish home in Plainview. Hate crimes against gays and lesbians remain persistent. And the beating death of Ecuadorian immigrant Marcelo Lucero at the hands of teenagers still scars the psyche of immigrants across Long Island and across America.

Americans claiming religious motivation for their hatred ignore both the Bible’s Good Samaritan principle and the Qu’ran’s injunction that, “O mankind We created you from a single pair of male and female and made you into nations and tribes; that you may know each other, not that you may despise each other.” (Chapter 49, verse 13)

Let’s take an honest assessment of ourselves. If we say that we believe all men are created equal except for ——-; then we do not believe all men are created equal. If we say we believe in the rule of law and due process but we secretly incarcerate fellow citizens, then we really do not believe in the rule of law. If we say we believe in freedom for all but we have secret police surveillance of law-abiding citizens, and then we do not believe in freedom. If we say we believe in justice for all while we secretly and indefinitely imprison men and women without trials or even legal representation; then we do not believe in justice for all.

If we do these things because of fears, then we are not the home of the brave. We are not the true home of Martin Luther King who risked all and ultimately gave his life for peace and the poorest among us. He truly believed in the equality to which others only give lip service.

Let’s reclaim our legacy. Remember that after the Boston massacre, the British soldiers who fired on the colonists who had surrounded and were stoning them, were charged with murder. John Adams, already a patriot demanding liberty for America, cited the rule of law and successfully defended the soldiers in court. His son, John Quincy Adams, similarly successfully defended and won freedom for escaped slaves. Both men were threatened and denounced for their beliefs but both men became presidents. Where are such leaders today?

It is so easy to blame our candidates and politicians for fear-mongering our liberties away but that is less than honest. These politicians are espousing these policies because we ourselves are willing to eschew our rights and liberties because we ourselves are fearful. Only recently we criticized the citizens of Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Syria for not standing up to their tyrannical leaders to demand freedom and justice. Now they are bravely doing so while we use our remaining freedoms to elect men who promise to hate, torture and imprison our friends and neighbors. As Dr. King said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”

It is time to remember our historical tradition. Let us remember that beautiful line from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, “It is time to be brave again.” Don’t wait for a politician to lead; it is time for each true American to stand up to these bigots and loudly proclaim our national creed: this is “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Robert J. Nuxoll
Maryann S. Slutsky
Habeeb U. Ahmed
Members, Long Island Neighbors for American Values
(Ed. Note: Robert J. Nuxoll is president of the Long Island Chapter of Americans
United for Separation of Church and State; Maryann S. Slutsky is the executive director
of LI Wins; Habeeb U. Ahmed is the chairman of the board of trustees of the Islamic Center
of Long Island and he is a commissioner on the Nassau County Human Rights Commission.)