What does it mean to be a patriot?

Obviously, a patriot loves his country — the land and the people, and in the case of America, at least, the freedom that comes with it.

It can also mean showing respect for the symbols of that country, symbols that represent those that have gone before and fought for what makes our country great.

It also means standing up for the ideals represented by those symbols — the flag of our great nation, the anthem that stirs our hearts and the pledge we speak before many civic functions.

During the War of 1812, a lawyer and amateur poet witnessed a terrible battle. He wrote a poem about it, conveying his awe and pride at seeing the flag of his nation still waving over the walls of Fort McHenry even after hours of bombardment by the British Navy. Later, someone set the words of that poem to music and called it “The Star-Spangled Banner.” After more than 100 years, it was finally made the national anthem in 1931.

The colors of our flag each stand for something that represents our country and our people. The red represents our hardiness and valor. The white stands for purity and innocence. The blue signifies vigilance, perseverance and justice.

In the Pledge of Allegiance, we speak of liberty and justice for all. Then there’s the Constitution.

“We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

That’s three times justice has been mentioned. For all. We the people. Red, white and blue.

Everybody knows at least the first two amendments to the Constitution. 

In my mind, the first one is probably the most important: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As citizens, we have the right — and the responsibility — to make ourselves heard if we see something that’s not right. We also don’t have the right to restrict others from expressing their views.

This Independence Day, I remind everyone to remember the pledge and the Constitution.

We’re Americans. It’s our right — our responsibility, really — to speak up when someone is being treated unfairly, or when, despite what everyone else is saying, it’s clear that the emperor has no clothes.

It’s the hallmark of the freedom our forefathers wanted long ago when they declared our indepenedence. We mustn’t forget that.

Robert Cox is an award-winning columnist and the managing editor of the Republic-Monitor. Write to him at rcox@perryvillenews.com or P.O. Box 367, Perryville, MO 63775. He may be reached by phone at 573-547-4567.

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