Celebrating the Fourth of July always makes me appreciate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans, such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom to make fools of ourselves on national TV.
I do understand that what we're literally celebrating on July 4th is our country's declaration of independence from Great Britain, not that independence itself. I suspect that many of us didn't completely overcome our dependence on British culture until Charles married Camilla.
I also understand that the freedoms I'm talking about were not actually adopted until more than 15 years after the Declaration of Independence, which merely served as a kind of broad outline for the Constitution yet to come, much as talk radio today serves as a broad outline for the evening news.
Nevertheless, I can't separate the birth of our nation from the concept of personal freedom, and certain freedoms in particular. Here are four of my favorites:
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech. Yeah, I know that free speech is not absolute -- that you can't, for instance, yell "fire" at a crowded theater.
What you can do, though, is say something like "I think the president is a horse's patootie" without having to worry about the government sending a team of jack-booted thugs to haul you off to some vermin-infested prison. The fact that we can speak out like that makes us less susceptible to tyranny, not to mention vermin infestation.
(For the record, I don't think the president is a horse's patootie, and I'm quite certain that the large black van parked outside my house is full of utility workers, or maybe ice cream.)
Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of the press. Obviously I like this one, since I write for the newspaper. It basically means the government can't tell me what to write.
My editors can still tell me what to write, as can my wife, my kids, members of my extended family, the president of my homeowners' association, some random woman I met at Kohl's last week and Georgia Tech fans. But not the government.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. We like to cite this provision to tell people what they can't do -- pray in school, set up nativity scenes on the town square, carry live snakes into government buildings.
In actuality, it's intended to tell the government what IT can't do, and that's dictate what, whom, how, or where we worship.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The framers understood that, if the government has weapons and the people don't, we're always at the mercy of our elected leaders' good intentions.
No offense to any elected leaders, but their good intentions are not something I'm willing to bet my freedom on.
Rob Jenkins is a local freelance writer and college professor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter@rjenkinsgdp.