4th of July – Be a Green Citizen

This 4th of July let’s celebrate being Americans and promote green citizenship by exercising our First Amendment freedoms and rights.

I Still Like to Call it Independence Day Cartoon - Source: Interfaith Power & LightLast year for 4th of July, I reacquainted myself with the Declaration of Independence so this year I decided to focus on the Constitution of the United States and specifically the First Amendment.

In this post, we will explore events that led up to the Bill of Rights and discuss how we can use our First Amendment rights to advocate for a habitable planet.

Articles of Confederation

The U.S. Constitution enshrined at the National Archives that begins, “We the people…” was not the first constitution of the United States.

On June 12, 1776, with the Revolutionary War in its second year, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee to draft a constitution for the newly formed confederation of 13 independent states. Concurrently, other committees were drafting the Declaration of Independence and a Model Treaty (a template for relations with foreign countries).

Articles of Confederation - Image: U.S. Library of CongressAfter more than a year of debate, on November 15, 1777, Congress approved the first constitution entitled the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union between the States and submitted it to the states for ratification.

The Articles of Confederation included a name for the confederation “The United States of America,” ensured state sovereignty was protected and defined the responsibilities of Congress, which was single body back then (there was no president of the United States).

Although ratification of the Articles of Confederation dragged on for several years and it did not become officially effective until February 2, 1781, the document served as the de facto system of government for the fledgling United States of America through most of the Revolutionary War and the early years of the freedom.

Constitution of the United States

By 1786, the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation were apparent. The states had retained most of the power and the central government did not have the authority to impose taxes, set commercial policy, or mediate issues between the states; inflation was out of control, businesses were struggling, and farmers were going into debt or losing their farms.

On May 25, 1787, delegates to the Constitutional Convention from the 13 states gathered in the Pennsylvania State House to begin the process of drafting a new constitution.

Assembly Room of the Pennsylvania State House, Philadelphia, PA - Photo: NPS

Throughout the sultry summer months, the delegates sweltered in woolen suits and wigs while sitting on hard wooden chairs in a hot stuffy room, and debated the future of the country. They did not have air conditioning, running water, or indoor toilets. There were no whiteboards, post-it notes, or computers. Imagine keeping records of the sessions and drafting the constitution by scratching an ink-covered quill pen across a piece of parchment. Mistakes or revisions required literally scraping the word or phrase off the parchment or crossing it out and writing the correction above it or scribbling it in the margin.

The delegates proposed and debated various plans, forms of government, taxation, representation, commerce, foreign affairs, state sovereignty, slavery, and individual rights. After more than 3 months, on September 17, 1787, the delegates met for the last time and signed the newly drafted Constitution of the United States.

The state ratification process did not go smoothly. The Federalists believed in a strong central government, but the anti-Federalists were concerned the federal government would become too powerful and usurp the rights of the people, and they would end up back in the situation they had just fought a war against a few years earlier.

The anti-Federalists demanded the Constitution be amended to include the people’s bill of rights. Influential delegates fearful the Constitution would not be ratified by the required nine states agreed. This strategy worked, and the Constitution was ratified on July 2, 1788.

Bill of Rights

American Flag Flying with Statue of LibertyIn 1798, pursuant to the Constitution of the United States, Article V, the First Federal Congress took up the issue of amendments. The House of Representatives approved 17, the Senate narrowed them down to 12, and 10 were actually ratified by the states and added to the Constitution on December 15, 1791.

The first of the list of 12 amendments concerned the ratio of constituents to each congressional representative and the second concerned congressional pay (it became Twenty-seventh Amendment) were never ratified by the states.

Thus, the third amendment became the First Amendment and leads the Bill of Rights.

First Amendment

The First Amendment guarantees the personal freedoms and rights of individual American citizens.

“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.”

Be a Green Citizen

In honor of the 4th of July and on behalf of our children and future generations, let us be green citizens by using our First Amendment freedoms and rights to advocate for a habitable planet. Here are a few ideas to serve as thought starters.

Freedom of Religion

Collectively, people of faith constitute the largest social network on earth. Religious organizations already have a long history of outreach, advocacy, and service, which make them ideally suited for implementing green actions, projects, and programs.

Solar Panels with Congregation Members Holding Banner - Photo: Green FaithReligious leaders are including stewardship of the earth in sermons and teachings as an act of piety.

Congregations are conducting energy audits, installing solar panels, planting organic gardens, using recycled paper, and reducing waste.

Volunteer to participate in a green project or suggest one.

Freedom of Speech

Exercising your right to freedom of speech is easy.

  • Talk with a coworker about the environmental impact of drinking bottled water or chat with your neighbor about composting.
  • Call, write a letter, tweet, post, or send an email to your elected officials letting them know what environmental issues are important to you and what you think they should do about them.
  • Attend a school, community, or government meeting and speak up to support fresh food in school lunches, curbside recycling, or a ban on single-use plastic bags.
  • Shoot some photos or make a video about your green actions and post it online. Digital cameras and smartphones make it easy and fun.
  • Write a letter to the editor or an editorial for an online or paper newspaper to share your water-savings ideas, promote distributed solar for your community, or report how living near a coal-fired power plant affects your family.
Freedom of Assembly

The First Amendment “right of the people peaceably to assemble” contains two keywords, peaceably and assemble.

Freedom of assembly covers a lot of ground including congregations, meetings, sit-ins, conventions, rallies, and protest marches. Find a green project or cause that speaks to you, or come up with your own. Then exercise your right to peaceably assemble to promote, advocate, or protest on behalf of it.

Eleventh Amendment to the Bill of Rights

I propose an eleventh amendment to the Bill of Rights (it would actually be the twenty-eighth amendment to the U.S. Constitution).Group of Kids Playing at a Park

“The people have the right to a habitable planet with clean air, clean water, fresh food, and nontoxic places to live, study, work, explore, and play.”

Happy 4th of July!

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A few of the organizations working towards a habitable planet include:


4th of July – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are the 7 most famous words in the Declaration of Independence which marks its 237th anniversary today, July 4, 2013.

Back in the late eighteenth century, with the Revolutionary War still fresh in their minds, Americans celebrating the 4th of July were directly connected to the Declaration of Independence and how it changed their lives.

237 years later, if we’re lucky and have the holiday off, we spend the 4th of July with friends and family at the beach, a park, or in our backyards. American flags fly everywhere, millions of hot dogs are consumed, and fireworks light up the evening sky. We are far, far away from the events that led up to the freedoms we enjoy today.

In honor of the 4th of July, I decided to reintroduce myself to the Declaration of Independence.

Declaration of Independence of 1776

The Declaration of Independence explains why the American colonies declared independence from Great Britain, catalogs injustices committed by King George III, and tells how the colonists attempted to obtain redress of these grievances.

Declaration of Independence (stone engraving)The first sentence sets the stage.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The beginning of the 2nd paragraph defines the very essence of what it means to be an American.

“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.”

The paragraph continues with the right of the people to alter or abolish the government and institute a new one, as well as the difficulty of doing so.

“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”

The main body of the Declaration contains a long list of grievances against King George III including his refusal to pass laws for the public good, obstructing justice, imposing taxes without consent of the people, cutting off trade, and suspending the legislature. Below that section, the colonists tell of the lack of support they received from “their British brethren.”

After declaring the United States of America free and absolved from allegiance to the British Crown the document closes with a commitment by our forefathers.

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Freedom and Responsibility

The Declaration of Independence ties us to the people who took a stand in 1776 against tyranny and injustice and fought with their pens and their lives for freedom. They fought for the people of their time and ours.

Wall Street with American FlagsToday, the tyrant is not a single all-powerful ruler, it is a multi-headed beast made up of corporations that place quarterly profits over the wellbeing of people and the planet. Our government seems to stand on the sidelines as the land, air, and water are polluted, natural resources are gobbled up, and the people with the least chance of fighting back suffer the most.

I believe freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand. It’s up to us now. We need to ensure future Americans and people around the world have a habitable planet to live on and the opportunity for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We need to declare our independence from corporate greed and a disinterested government. I propose a new Declaration of Independence for the modern world and the addition of a 4th unalienable right.

Declaration of Independence of 2013

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve corporations and laws that enable special interests to control our government and destroy our planet, we should declare the causes.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a Habitable Planet.

We are not disposed to suffer evils any longer and require corporations and our government to change and serve the greater good or face extinction. We submit these reasons.

  • Corporations are allowed to pollute our land, air, and water.
  • Corporations make and sell products that harm people and the planet.
  • Corporations enable the wealthy few to become wealthier at our expense.
  • Corporations waste Earth’s resources and generate mountains of trash.
  • Corporations spend millions of dollars to finance political campaigns and elect politicians that will serve their interests, not ours.

We have appealed to our government to seek redress for our grievances but the government continues to allow these injustices to occur and in some cases actually abets them.

We mutually pledge to current and future Americans and other citizens of the world, that we’re not going to take it anymore. We will use the freedom hard won by our nation’s founders to fight our oppressors with our actions, our voices, our smartphones, our wallets, and hopefully not our lives.

Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, D.C. on 02/17/13 - Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood
Forward on Climate Rally in Washington, D.C. on 02/17/13 – Photo by Shadia Fayne Wood

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A few of the organizations working towards a habitable planet include: