I was watching one of my all-time favorite TV shows (The West Wing) today and the subject of religious freedom was the topic of the episode. A group of persecuted Chinese Christians had stowed away on a freighter. 63 of them survived the trip to the U.S; 18 of them died. When they arrived in San Diego the INS discovered them and as is the custom, started the proceedings to deport them. But the group claimed they were fleeing religious persecution, so it brought up a completely new issue. Why? Because this country was founded by men and women fleeing religious persecution. The President was informed that it was not uncommon for illegal immigrants to feign religious persecution in an effort to remain in this country. So the leader of the group was summoned to the White House for the President to perform a "test" on the validity of their claim. The man told the President that a series of questions would never prove the validity of a person's faith. The real test is in how you live your life and what you choose to do with the freedom God has given you.
One of the reasons I love Boston is that its the seat of the beginnings of our country's pursuit of independence. It's the place where it all began. It's where the first shot of the Revolutionary War was fired in the pursuit of liberty. For me, it's hallowed ground. You can't stand on that spot, on that bridge in Concord, and not feel the passion of those patriots that day. You can't sit in the Meeting Hall at Fanuiel Hall and not experience the intensity of the words that were spoken there in defense of freedom. Walking the Freedom Trail still gives me goosebumps.
I have thought endlessly about that word the last several months. What does it really mean to be free? Even when we think we are free we can be in our own self-imposed prisons. We can break free from oppression or abuse and yet never really be free because we are still bound by the affects of that abuse. We can live in a country that claims that everyone is free and yet it appears at times only certain citizens have rights while others are persecuted unfairly. We all have the freedom to choose, but are our choices made based on our economic situation or our responsibilities that keep us bound to mediocrity?
People have died to be free and stay free. And yet I think we underestimate the significance of this one little word.