July is special in Utah. Not only do we celebrate the founding and freedoms of our nation but also the pioneering spirit of our state that created a legacy which has made it first among equals in America. As we remember our founding and consider the blessings that have come to the world because of America and her institutions, I want to express my gratitude for the bedrock principle that has made it all possible: Liberty.
America’s most sacred social compact is the Constitution of the United States, and the freedoms derived from that document are so powerful that it has become the model for hundreds of nations throughout the world, including former adversaries. Among its rights are those that guarantee independence of conscience with freedom of religion, speech, and assembly; the right to associate one with another under the rule of law; the right to elect our leaders; the right to hold property; and the right to engage in commerce and stand independent from other nations.
These are only a few of the liberties that uphold the freedom which our founding documents make clear comes from our Creator, thereby establishing the path to true equality among individuals. Liberty is the defining characteristic of our Republic—the codified guarantees that assure the responsible use of freedom. It is both the hope and promise of America that has pointed us true north as we have grown as a nation to undertake the most successful political experiment in history, while at the same time allowing us to overcome practices inconsistent with that promise and our shared destiny.
Liberty bridles licentiousness, offering not the false promise of Utopia but a continual striving for fairness, justice, and redress. In our history it has freed millions from slavery; provided civil rights unencumbered by race, creed, or color; and continues to seek balance between laissez-faire capitalism and the welfare of all. In the process, it has raised to heights unseen not only America’s but the world’s standard of living.
Liberty’s eternal power is America’s legacy, its gift to the world, placing self-determination in the trusted hands not of the government but the governed, and for this reason, so many seeking to aggrandize themselves and consolidate power for their own purposes seek to undermine this and other founding principles.
It is my hope this July that we will take time to consider the blessings of liberty and the rich examples from history in the American narrative. It is only because of liberty that those experiences which darken our past have been—and continue to be—overcome through civic engagement, constructive consensus, and a collective heart willing to shoulder the responsibilities associated with self-government.
Why is this important? Because liberty is fragile and too often taken for granted. None of us know America without it, but as a working political concept it is only a little over 230 years old, and as Ronald Reagan correctly warned, “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.”
What do the responsibilities to ensure freedom through liberty require of us? We must let our voices be heard, vote in elections, educate ourselves beyond headlines and bumper stickers. We must consider the consequences of actions that often promise short-term gratification at the expense of long-term opportunity. We must serve with the attitude of giving more than we take and trust in the law of the harvest which resides deep in the value fabric of just about every culture in the world. We must strengthen families and communities, and focus on educating the rising generation in morals as well as in mind. And in order to take the blessings of liberty into our lives, we must ensure the ability of others to do the same.
All of this becomes part of our social capital—the power we have collectively to overcome shortcomings and adversities, to promote opportunity and fairness, and to lift those who stand in need. To give anything away it must first be earned, and liberty provides the foundation for doing just that. While freedom may allow within its own definition the possibility for abuse, the standard of liberty eventually exposes and corrects, as it has throughout the arc of American history.
This is the spirit that permeates July, as we celebrate our independence and pioneer heritage. Our state and nation have never been so well positioned to avail themselves of freedom’s blessings made possible through liberty, and to this end I am optimistic, believing that the only way we will fail to realize the continued promise of liberty is by neglecting or willfully abusing the gift itself or by failing to accept the responsibilities required to keep it for ourselves and assure it for our posterity.
The preservation of liberty is the most important political imperative of our time. More than any other cause, it deserves our vigilance and best effort. Without it, the experiment ends; with it the progress of our past is only a precursor to the promise of tomorrow.