Our freedoms are being chipped away - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Our freedoms are being chipped away

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Dolly Withrow Dolly Withrow

Dolly Withrow is a retired English professor and the author of four books. Contact Dolly at ritewood@aol.com. 

"If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience." — Woodrow Wilson

It's hard to fool a dog, but it's easy to trick a human. If a man offers me a warm smile, a glib tongue and a firm handshake, I'm sold. If he's a crook, I won't know the difference, but Freddie Flealoader, Maxworthamillion and Charlie Sheeney, our dogs, are not as easily duped. When they sniff strangers and lock eyes with them, if the dogs growl, the strangers might have serious character flaws.

If dogs could vote, then, we would have some mighty fine leaders. Since we humans vote and are easily deceived by slick orators, we've elected politicians instead of leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, politicians who have stripped us of freedoms that made our nation the envy of the world.

The gradual loss of freedom in a country is like a stale odor in a house. Over a long period of time, occupants of the house become accustomed to the stench until they no longer notice it. The same is true of the slow, bit-by-bit erosion of freedoms. My having lived for many decades has helped me to contrast the liberties we enjoyed in both private and public places when I was young with those freedoms that have been lost today.

We citizens are guaranteed by the First Amendment certain rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." 

Our government has not established a single religion we must all embrace, so we have lost no freedom there. Our government is not to prohibit — that is, ban, forbid or make illegal — our free exercise of religion. No exceptions of place or circumstance are included in this amendment, but our government has made exceptions in defiance of that guarantee. Our freedom of religion has been trimmed at the edges. A few examples follow: There can be no public prayer during commencement exercises in public schools. There can be no mention of Christmas in public schools. There can be no nativity scenes on public property. But wait. The United States Capitol has numerous inscriptions referring to God. Even parts of hymns can be found on one wall. The House chamber has the inscription, "In God We Trust."

Now in the sunset years of my own life, I tell our grandchildren what it was like when I attended elementary school. We began each day with a prayer. The federal government did not interfere with local school boards and small communities, nor did government prohibit prayer in school, for that would have been in defiance of the First Amendment. I told our three grandsons our freedoms have been chipped away so gradually that most people do not realize there's been a loss. 

When elected officials remove liberties bit by bit, they claim to do so for the good of the people. We citizens will be healthier if told what to eat and drink. We'll all be safer if our e-mails are accessible to our government for its scrutiny. We are also guaranteed freedom of speech, but making offensive comments, even those made in jest, are not to be tolerated. Such offenders have been publicly shamed and ostracized. Even after apologizing profusely, they receive no forgiveness. Slurs against any group or person are hurtful, and no thinking person makes them. But here's the problem. Whether nasty names are aimed at a certain race, ethnic group, physically or mentally disabled, or old persons (like me), curbing those hateful slurs butts heads with our freedom of speech. We the people must decide, then, which is more precious to us — our freedoms or the curtailment of those freedoms — freedoms for which our men and women in the Armed forces have died.