Editor's note: The following column is the second in an eight-part series about "What's right with America" that will appear in the pages of the Roundup through July 4. The author, Stan Brown, is a local historian, a columnist for the Rim Review and a retired minister. This series reflects his take on the implications of freedom in America.
What's right about America? Freedom is right about America; the freedom to obey the law voluntarily.
Maybe you hadn't thought about that one lately, but it is the foundation of our democracy. This was strongly impressed upon me as my wife and I wandered the halls of America's capitol building.
It was the spring of the year, and Washington was filled to overflowing with school buses and crowds of children from all over the nation. The children were lined up on the capitol steps, waiting their turn to be allowed in, but we had obtained passes from our congressman ahead of time.
We were directed to a small door down on the lower level beside those great flights of stairs, and there we were welcomed to a special VIP tour. There were just 18 of us in the group, and after the tour, which acquainted us with the halls and galleries of that huge complex, we were turned loose to wander
My mind was experiencing a rush of history. A procession of persons, speeches and events I had studied in school all my life now took on form and substance. For several hours we wandered those halls, the rooms of the Senate and the House, studying the displays. It was overwhelming to feel a part of all of it. All these traditions, these hopes, this heritage all were ours.
As we slipped into the gallery of the Senate, we immediately recognized John Glenn making a speech on the floor. He was pleading for a law that would provide more benefits to National Guard reserves who were retired. We had lunch in the Senate restaurant, partaking of its famous bean soup. Legend has it that soon after the turn of the century the chairman of the committee that supervised the Senate Restaurant gaveled through a resolution requiring that bean soup be on the menu every day. And so it is.
During lunch we noted the legislative buzzers calling in the voters. One to six rings meant different things, such as a "quorum call," or a recess. The recipe for the bean soup was on the menu, which we were encouraged to take with us.
We wandered some more, and were suddenly face to face with Senator Dennis DiConcini, who was from our hometown. We introduced ourselves, and like a good public figure, he seemed to recognize me. I had met him before on one occasion, but our meeting now was like long lost friends. He spent time chatting and offered to do what he could to help us. Then he went on to his work of making laws for us to abide.
We were reminded often during those days in Washington that not everyone keeps the laws passed by the Legislature. We had to pass through so many electronic scanners I feared my film would be ruined, but it was not.
Obedience to the law is the language of democracy. America is not established on enforcement, as are authoritarian governments. America's freedom is built on citizens who voluntarily take responsibility for the will of the majority, as expressed in our laws.
We know we have the means to change the law if it is unnecessary or unjust. We trust one another for compliance, and when we no longer believe in the goodwill of one another, we have to fall back on force. That is when freedom begins to unravel. When vigilantes ride, when the National Guard has to be called out, when police have to set up road blocks or raid private homes, these are signs the fabric of democracy is coming apart at the seams.
Maintaining our freedom does not come by more and more enforcement, but in a groundswell of public action to correct the injustices and rebuild the moral fiber of the nation.
The other night it was a late hour when we pulled up and waited at a stoplight. No other vehicles or people were in sight, yet there we dutifully sat for a full minute or two until the light turned green and we proceeded through the unused intersection. A minor moment in the day, yet the freedom to obey the law voluntarily is what creates freedom. And freedom is what is right about America.