Considering rights, responsibilities 
as another Fourth of July approaches

Maybe it’s because Independence Day falls in the middle of this week. Perhaps the absence of the three-day weekend that’s become, for many, the principal motivation for our national celebration is the reason I’m thinking a bit differently about the Fourth of July this year.

It could be the absence of fireworks out in Fruita or up in Mount Crested Butte, annual events cancelled because tinder-dry fire conditions find firefighters in Colorado still trying to tamp down stubborn blazes and an Arizona community mourning the loss of an entire wildland fire crew.

Rather than anticipating booming aerial displays or the latest iteration of skunk cabbage-clad marchers from the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory parading in their traditional garb down Elk Avenue in Crested Butte, I find myself wondering about more basic things our Founding Fathers considered back when they were promulgating the Declaration of Independence.

There’s no particular rhyme or reason to the topics of my mental machinations, but all relate to current events.

Just last Friday, I pickup up the local newspaper as we wandered through Westcliffe on a circuitous route to Great Sand Dunes National Park. I learned that city officials there had assumed sponsorship of that community’s Fourth of July Parade after the Chamber of Commerce bowed out in the midst of controversy over plans of the local Tea Party Patriots to march carrying personal firearms.

I’m not surprised, in a time when county sheriffs want to challenge rather than enforce duly enacted laws and when former county commissioners think it’s okay to pick and choose which laws to obey, that right-wing, gun-rights activists might choose to display their weapons a few days after Colorado’s new gun laws went into effect. 

I’m happy that some in Westcliffe, maybe even here, think such displays are just plain silly.  Perhaps, as was mentioned in the Westcliffe discussions, they’re just cheaper and more easily considered alternatives to a penile implant.

What I wondered about as we drove, in a single afternoon, through high-mountain forests and deep drifting sand, was the recent appropriation of the word “patriot” by those on one extreme edge of our political spectrum. Could the Custer County Tea Party Patriots, or our similarly-inclined local groups (should they ever settle their ongoing argument over which is most patriotic) even consider the possibility of a similar organization of “progressive patriots” with much different priorities?

I wonder what our Founding Fathers, or our current Grand Junction City Council, might think about news last week that atheists in Starke, Fla., have been allowed to place their own monument to free thinking outside the Bradford County courthouse. It sits alongside the Ten Commandments placed in a “free speech zone” by the Community Men’s Fellowship. 

“It’s their right,” the fellowship posted, while pledging to honor its Christian principles.

Would we be so accommodating here if local atheists wanted to place a similar monument in our “Plaza of Law and Liberty,” constructed in response to attempts to halt reinstallation of the Ten Commandments monument when City Hall was rebuilt?

I’ve also been wondering about, and appreciating, Sen. Mark Udall’s attention to our government’s monitoring of phone calls and Internet communications in the name of national security. That’s a further slide on the slippery slope we started down with the bi-partisan enactment of the Patriot Act in the aftermath of 9/11. 

How much of the hopefulness embodied in our Declaration, our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, are we willing to surrender out of fear?

This independence stuff, democracy itself, can certainly get messy, can’t it? Perhaps patriotism doesn’t always come wrapped up in stars and stripes, packing heat and warning: “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Well before our current preoccupation with individual rights, a fellow former Western Slope elected official used to talk about another word. My friend Mick Ireland, ex-Pitkin County commissioner and Aspen mayor, would urge that we also think about the “responsibilities” that we incur as citizens, wherever we might find ourselves in the political spectrum.

That, I submit, is something worth thinking about as we prepare to celebrate this Fourth of July.

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action, according to our will, within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others.” — Thomas Jefferson.

Jim Spehar’s not sure yet just how he’ll celebrate Independence Day. Your comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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