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A declaration: Our first freedoms play out in everyday lives

Friday, July 3, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Dear reader,

If we’re to believe our local politicians, Gov. Jay Nixon stayed the veto hanging from the Ellis Fischel extreme makeover in large part because of e-mails, calls and letters from Columbia and Boone County.

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Rep. Chris Kelly told Missourian reporter Jim Holt last week that pressure from mid-Missourians was a main factor in swaying the governor.

The $31.2 million project would close the current cancer treatment center and relocate it atop two new floors at University Hospital. Inpatient care is already at the U and has been for several years.

Fans of the plan might consider last week’s inaction a victory. Those less optimistic fretted as the governor put the funding on hold until and unless the state’s fiscal fortunes improve.

Either way, it appears they were heard.

This weekend, we celebrate our Declaration of Independence. The document is a tribute to the courage of our founding fathers and mothers standing up to the might of Great Britain and declaring those inalienable rights of people.

I’m no historian, but I believe the document that defined the practice of democracy came 15 years later, in 1791. It was brilliant.

Consider the power of a single sentence:

“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.”

They are the five most powerful rights, all in the space of two “tweets” on Twitter.com. Their absence defines modern day dictators because they are at the core of democratic expression.

I support the First Amendment. Go ahead and call me biased. (I would plead guilty, not “take the Fifth,” which is another fine freedom but for another day.)

So this weekend the Missourian tells stories of those first freedoms in a very personal and practical way. These vignettes show how our Constitution lives every day in the actions of our neighbors:

Negar Resvani Jackson fled from religious persecution in Iran. Joanne Schrader assembles outside Planned Parenthood every Thursday to oppose abortion. Cherith Moore led a petition drive to reinstall speed humps on Alexander Street. Journalist Mike Martin created his own lively and sometimes controversial news site. Charles Dudley finds outlets for speech all over local Web sites.

You might not like their politics. I like their ability — their right — to engage in political and civic life.

Happy Fourth of July.

Tom


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