Independence Day is one of my favorite days of the year, and my work in the pro-life movement has only made that more and more true each year. The great American holiday of July 4th is very much a pro-life holiday.
The independence we celebrate is an independence the Founding Fathers embraced with courageous, self-sacrificing actions. They pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor because they recognized certain self-evident truths and inalienable rights that were worth sacrificing themselves for.
First among them is the right to life.
America is a nation that came together not based on geography or ethnicity, but based on principle, based on a compelling idea that drew, and continues to draw, people from around the world.
The independence our founders declared was an independence from a tyrant, from a ruler who did not recognize religious freedom. It was independence from a system of government that failed to recognize that human rights are not subject to the king, but rather to the King of Kings.
And it is an independence that they realized we have to fight for over and over in each generation, as Benjamin Franklin asserted while leaving Independence Hall on the final day of deliberation. When asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” he replied, “A Republic – if you can keep it.”
And in our times, Ronald Reagan declared, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same.”
That’s the pro-life movement. The movement that fights to defend the foundational principle of our nation’s heritage, the first of the God-given rights we possess, the right to life, is in fact fighting for that freedom and striving to keep that republic.
If the independence we celebrate on July 4th is an independence rooted in humanity itself – and not geography, ethnicity, or any other characteristic that might distinguish one human being from another – then it belongs also to the children in the womb.
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One Fourth of July, some friends of mine and I held a banner in front of my parent’s house as all the people gathered across the street for the town fireworks. It said, “Pray to end Abortion.” One man, expressing agreement with the message, questioned whether it was the right setting to deliver it. “Of course it is,” I explained. “This is the day we celebrate a nation in which all are supposed to be considered equal. What better way to celebrate our freedom than to work to extend it to others?”
This is why the pro-life movement is so American. It is a movement striving to achieve welcome for those of whom Roe v. Wade spoke when it said, “The word ‘person,‘ as used in the Fourteenth Amendment, does not include the unborn”. Roe excluded; the pro-life movement includes. Roe made the circle of persons in America smaller; the pro-life movement seeks to expand it.
This Fourth of July will be as joyful and meaningful as any other. We are in the midst of two crucial battles in the ongoing war to preserve those principles of freedom: first, we have the opportunity to support the confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice and move the court in a pro-life direction, and second, we have the opportunity to elect, in the midterms, more pro-life candidates.
A prayer from the Catholic liturgy for Independence Day sums it up nicely, and we as a movement can take inspiration from it for our task ahead.
“[Christ] spoke to men a message of peace and taught us to live as brothers. His message took form in the vision of our fathers, as they fashioned a nation where men might live as one. This message lives on in our midst as a task for men today and a promise for tomorrow. We thank you, Father, for your blessings in the past, and for all that, with your help, we must yet achieve” (Sacramentary, Preface for Independence Day I, previous translation).
Let’s achieve it together! When we sing our national anthem, it ends with a question: “Oh say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?” We are being asked, in other words, whether we are still fighting, as the founders did, to preserve those sacred principles that constitute our freedom. Together, let’s say a resounding “Yes!”, pledging our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor! Happy Independence Day!