These are excerpts from Senator Mike Lee’s remarks to a special fireside for Provo, Utah’s “America’s Freedom Festival.”
I was raised [in Utah Valley], and still call this place home. It was in this valley – just a few blocks from here, in fact – that I learned to read, ride a bicycle, doorbell ditch, and win snowball fights. It was here that I earned my Eagle Scout award, met my wife, and graduated from high school, college, and law school. More importantly, it was here in this valley that I witnessed every day from a young age exactly what it is that makes this country great — I saw and still see neighbors caring for neighbors, citizens who – motivated by nothing other than a desire to build a better community – give freely of their resources to help those in need of food, shelter, knowledge, or anything else they deem lacking.
My childhood – at least the portion of it that I spent in Provo – is full of idyllic memories, due in large part to the good people who inhabit this valley. What I love most about this country is directly related to what I love most about this valley – the sense of community that adds to the security, prosperity, and happiness of every citizen in meaningful, tangible ways. We assemble here together this evening to celebrate that sense of community, which is essential to what we all love about this valley and our great country.
Asserting one’s rights is a big part of life in the Senate.
For the same reasons, asserting one’s rights is a big part of being a citizen. In the United States, we are free citizens, not subjects. Here, the people rule. Here, the government works for us, and not the other away around.
We must always remember that, as Americans, we are free to assert these rights not because we are superior to other people… but because we believe as a society that “all men are created equal.”
That is the first self-evident truth, asserted in our Declaration of Independence.
That document is not only the founding charter of our nation. It is not only the reason we prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July later this week. The Declaration of Independence is also the greatest assertion of human rights and dignity since the Sermon on the Mount.
The two bear many similarities. They both speak deep, simple truths about the nature of man. They are both rendered in language so beautiful and clear that they inspire hope and courage across the ages.
But there is another similarity that can easily get overlooked. As permanent and definitive as the Sermon on the Mount and the Declaration of Independence seem to us now, they were in fact both merely introductions, not conclusions.
Christ’s defining moments on earth were his atonement, crucifixion and resurrection… The Sermon on the Mount is at the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, not the end.
In the same way… the Declaration of Independence was signed five years before the Battle of Yorktown, and seven years before the Revolutionary War officially ended.
An assertion of human rights, human dignity, and human equality is a revolutionary step in the life of any individual, community, or nation. But history shows us that it’s only the first step.
Both two millennia ago and two centuries ago, identifying human rights was only the beginning of the story. Whether following in the footsteps of Christ or reviewing the experiences of America’s founding generation, this is a crucially important lesson.
The lesson is that with rights come responsibilities. Rights are only the beginning.
The rest of the story involves what we do with those rights – along with the talents, the time, and the opportunities we receive from God.
This is especially so in America today.
Here, self-government is not just a political system; it must also be a personal ethic. We can govern ourselves as a nation only to the extent that we govern ourselves as individuals.
An assertion of rights is empty without a corresponding acceptance of responsibility.
The rights we enjoy are vast and significant. Our government recognizes that we are born with the God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit happiness. This idea was meant to encompass nearly all we can accomplish while we are on this earth. The responsibility that comes with such widely protected rights is equally noble and equally important.
Because our rights are endowed by our Creator, our duty is to serve Him. And of course, the way we serve our God is by serving our neighbor.
Service: that is the rest of the story.
Seen in this light – in the light of the teachings of Christ and the lessons of our nation’s Founding – we can begin to see more clearly exactly what it is we are gathered here to celebrate.
Properly considered, human equality is not simply a moral principle; it is a moral challenge.
We Have a Duty
Because we are all equal – as children of God and citizens of our nation – we’re supposed to think about it. We’re not supposed to let things slide, or ignore problems. Because we are equal, we have a duty to strive equally for justice, for peace, and for truth.
The challenge issued to us, two millennia ago in Galilee and two centuries ago in Philadelphia, is to be a light on a hill, to provide comfort to the needy, to repair the world one day and one decision at a time.
This is the great gift the Founding Fathers gave us: a nation where your success depends on your service.
Our free enterprise economy takes a lot of criticism for promoting greed, materialism, and competition. But what, exactly, is everyone competing for? Ultimately, all of our businesses and workers and entrepreneurs compete to figure out the best way to help the most people.
No matter who you are or what you’re seeking, the first question anyone in our economy must ask is: how can I help? What problems need to be solved? What can I do to improve other people’s lives?
Businesses do not survive unless they take care of their customers, their clients, their neighborhoods, their suppliers, their employees, and their investors.
The very same process is at work every day in our voluntary civil society: our civic, charitable, religious, and social organizations do not survive unless they succeed in achieving their objectives. If someone wants to make the world a better place, our free civil society requires that they do it well.
Both in our free-enterprise economy and our voluntary civil society, success in America is ultimately based not on competition, but cooperation. We look out for ourselves by looking out for everyone else.
We’re All in This Together
Freedom, properly understood, doesn’t mean you’re on your own. It means “we’re all in this together.”
It means if you want to improve your own life, your first step is to improve the lives of your friends and neighbors.