My Turn: Honor America by defending freedom in parade displays

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2004

Ido solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the president of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.

So begins a sailor's or soldier's life. It is called the Oath of Enlistment and every man and woman serving, or who has served, took this oath. I can remember standing in a room full of 30 or so other teenagers, right hand raised, staring straight ahead at a picture of George Bush Sr. flanked by the American flag on one side and all the armed forces flags to the other; it was a day I will never forget.

Supporting and defending the Constitution of the United States included defending all rights defined within the foundation documents; free speech, right to assembly, freedom from religious persecution and the inalienable life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness along with everything else contained in those crowned documents which frame our democratic way of life.

I may not have particularly liked a certain segment of the parade on the 4th of July, which coincidentally is also my birthday. However, riding to work on the following Tuesday, still distressed a bit over the parade while discussing it in heated conversation something made the Oath of Enlistment pop into my head. And like a flash, I remembered the day I described above and it literally felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Knowing the difference between right and wrong, what is socially acceptable and not, are very important skills; some of us learn them and some of us ignore them (and grab onto the free speech wagon).

Ultimately, it is up to an individual - a U.S. citizen in this particular instance, protected under the rights secured them by the core values represented therein - to make that call. As a veteran and a U.S. citizen, I can firmly tell you a bestiality float would offend me, a man in a mask might anger me, a trashy film may humor and incense me, but deeper than all of these sits my commitment to this country and all the traditions and protected rights afforded every U.S. citizen.

I'll be honest and say only after my enlightening memory do I firmly and vehemently believe anything (short of unlawful acts) should be allowed in our parades. I can think of no better way to show honor to this country than to bow to the greatness invested in our founding documents. Censoring parade entries based on a committee's interpretation of acceptability is precisely the wrong thing to do and I urge the committee to think again, visit the library and read these incredible documents; heck - I'd bet most of them may have served and might even recall their own enlistment oaths.

Censorship puts power and privilege into the hands of a few and has been a continuing argument heard decade after decade, but truly and in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "To unequal privileges among members of the same society the spirit of our nation is, with one accord, adverse."

• Chris Letterman is a Juneau resident and a disabled U.S. Navy veteran.

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