On any day of the year, we do well to contemplate what liberty means and how our government serves — or does not serve — to protect this and other rights. But Independence Day gives us a more focused opportunity. On July 4, 1776, delegates from the Continental Congress accepted the Declaration of Independence, after a vote on July 2 that the 13 British colonies in America should be "free and independent states." The declaration stated that governments, formed by the "consent of the governed," are meant to protect the rights which Thomas Jefferson called self-evident: "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." The declaration also addressed what the members of the Continental Congress considered to be abuses of power by King George the III, and it concluded by announcing that the colonies had become "the United States of America."
Our Fourth of July experiences generally are not that dramatic! But even so — in addition to having a picnic, raising a flag, watching fireworks, or whatever else means "Independence Day" to you — we invite you to make this day conscious and relevant. Here are some suggestions of ways you can explore the day's significance.
To Name This Day . . .
Take a Freedom Pledge: During the years 1947-1949, people around the United States got to see the Declaration of Independence and other documents pertaining to freedom when a special train carrying valuable articles from the National Archives traveled more than 37,000 miles to meet them in and near their own towns. The more than 3.5 million people who walked through the train were invited to sign a Freedom Pledge. Learn more about this pledge and adjust the wording to make it your own.
Sing a Democracy Song: Many of us grew up singing patriotic songs; we know the tunes and maybe even the words by heart. So what better way to explore the meaning of liberty than to try some alternative lyrics? Micah Bucey, a regular contributor to Spirituality & Practice, turned four traditional songs into queries about the nature of democracy in our times. Sing along with him (audio provided) and try your hand at your own lyrics if you wish!
- Democracy, The Vulnerable ("America, the Beautiful")
- Hold Tight, Democracy ("God Bless America")
- My Sweet Democracy ("My Country 'Tis of Thee")
- Oh, Democracy, Where Are You? ("The Battle Hymn of the Republic")
Suggest an Alternative National Anthem: As soaring as its tune and some of its sentiments may be, "The Star-Spangled Banner" presents a troubling spin on our national values, especially when it suggests in the final verse that when we have a just cause, we must conquer. We invite you to submit your recommendations for a national anthem that from your point of view most accurately reflects America's values and virtues, such as equality, freedom, justice for all, the common good, and popular sovereignty — the idea that the power of government comes from us, the people.
Take a Vow of Citizenship: Naturalization ceremonies often happen on the Fourth of July, so it's a good time to contemplate what democracy means to us and requires of us. If you would like to host a Citizenship Vow Ceremony in your community — or simply to make a citizenship vow of your own — please feel free to use the ritual on this page.
Visit the Practicing Democracy Project: If you find the above suggestions intriguing and want more, we welcome you to go deeper. Since 2017, Spirituality & Practice has been working with the Fetzer Institute to design resources for practicing democracy. Check out this overview of the project and follow the icons and other links you'll find there to uncover a wealth of spiritual practices, books, films, music, prayers, quotes, videos, related topics, and much more.