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HENSLEY: Liberty is not a license to do whatever we want

The Pledge of Allegiance of the United States is an expression of allegiance to the Flag of the United States and the republic of the United States of America. It was originally composed by Colonel George Balch in 1887. George Beall Balch (3 January 1821 – 18 April 1908) was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy who served during the Mexican–American War and the American Civil War, according to Wikipedia.

According to History.com, one version of the pledge included the words, ““We give our heads and our hearts to God and our country; one country, one language, one flag.” It underwent several word changes before arriving at what we recite today.

This famous pledge was one that we honored daily as students and teachers as we faced the flag in our classroom, stood to our feet, and respectfully quoted, “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and for which it stands, ONE nation UNDER GOD, with liberty and justice for all.” No one would have even considered staying on their rump or taking a knee or refusing to place a hand over their heart during the recitation.

Our current national upheaval in society is because of the many who feel they have not experienced the promise of liberty or of justice for all. We are an imperfect nation, made up of imperfect people. Those in authority are often unjust. Many abuse their liberty. The goals of our forefathers who established this nation included, “to form a more perfect union.” As a nation, we still strive to accomplish exactly that.

Our founding fathers had escaped the cruelty and inhumanity of unjust kings, tyrannical overlords, and churches where kings and popes considered themselves the right hand of God. Social classes were distinct and almost impossible to escape. The wealthy had a stranglehold on the poor. Many lived in bondage and servitude their entire lives, fearful of every single day’s survival. There are many nations in the world today where this social structure is still in tact.

Perhaps those among us who have interpreted “liberty” as the right to go forth, pillage, plunder, destroy public property and the property of their fellow citizens should think about the true meaning and responsibility of liberty.

We live in a country where no matter how wrong, obnoxious, misinformed, righteous, inspired, or brilliant, we all have the right to be heard. There are countries around the world where a dissenting idea could get a person killed. Breaking laws and creating public violence and destruction would surely end in the severest of punishments, if not death. Men and women have fought and died since the inception of this nation to guarantee all of us the liberties we often take for granted.

Merriam Webster dictionary defines liberty as a noun. “It is the quality or state of being free; the power to do as one pleases; freedom from physical restraint; freedom from arbitrary or despot control; the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges the power of choice. Liberty is a right or immunity enjoyed by prescription or by grant, privilege.”

Liberty also has its negative side, as included by Webster’s definition. “Liberty is an action going beyond normal limits: such as a breach of etiquette or propriety, familiarities as in undue liberties with a stranger; a risk or a chance (He took foolish liberties with his health.); a violation of rules or a deviation from standard practice book, ( He took liberties in the way he played the game.); a distortion of fact (The movie takes many liberties with the actual events.)”

The liberty we enjoy in this country was hard won and blood bought, originally defended by young lives and patriots determined to be free of their oppressors in the nations from which they came. Liberty in this season of American history is often interpreted as the freedom to do anything we please, but it was never meant to become a license for one person or group of people to destroy those same rights in the lives of others.