Truly equal under the law? Maybe yes, maybe no
Published: Thursday, February 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 7, 2013 00:02
Over the Christmas break, my family and I went to see the new movie “Lincoln.” My brother had told us it was wonderful and that we should see it. He was right. Although I am not a history fan by any means, Lincoln brought us some intriguing questions. It discussed the monumental last four months of President Lincoln’s presidency, and, according to Damian Hondares from The Lancaster, the two most important historical events in the United States —the passage of the 13th Amendment and the ending of the Civil War. The Civil War was an incredibly influential war, not only for the freedom of African Americans, but also for mankind in general. During a heated debate in the movie a radical Democrat stands up and confronts Thaddeus Stevens, a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, about his belief that all men are created equal, and Stevens’ reply raised an interesting question in my mind: Are all men born equal? Stevens told him he did not believe all men were equal, but that under the law he believed they deserved the right to be equal. “Slavery is the only insult to natural law. Even worthless, unworthy you ought to be treated equally before the law.”
For the first time ever, we live in a pluralistic society. America has become not only a home to Protestants, Catholics and Jews, but also to Muslins, atheists and agnostics. In his inaugural address on Jan. 21, 2013, President Obama spoke about both being created equal by God and America’s founding principle that “all are equal under the law.”
“Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional – what makes us American – is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:
‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.’”
I believe that in a society that believes all are created equal under the law, everyone should truly be equal under the law. Gays should have the right to marry whom they love, and atheists, muslins and agnostics should have the right to worship how they wish. Our freedom under the law should not affect our views and opinions.
No one can deny that people are not born equal. Every being is unique. Some are born blind, deaf, poor, rich, or with disease or other difficulties that either set them back or ahead in life. Life is not fair. No one is given the same opportunities. But America as a democracy gives citizens the right and chance to accomplish whatever they set out to accomplish.
To have liberty and justice for all may mean giving up rights you believe you are entitled to. Many people interpret this wrong. People’s understanding of their rights and freedoms often conflict. Because we are a pluralistic society these freedoms may be restricted to comply with others’ freedoms.
“That is our generation’s task – to make these words, these rights, these values – of Life, and Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness – real for every American. Being true to our founding documents does not require us to agree on every contour of life; it does not mean we will all define liberty in exactly the same way, or follow the same precise path to happiness. Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time.” President Obama said in his 44th inaugural address.
Thaddeus Stevens believed in the freedom of African Americans and fought hard for their liberty. Although slavery has long been resolved, many equality issues are still being combated. Which brings the question “Are all Americans equal under the law?” to the forefront of my mind. President Obama finished his inaugural address with this challenge to Americans: “Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”
Hannah Cole is a double major in journalism and Spanish and is the editor-In-chief of The Pine Log.