It was 7 o’clock in the morning at the Roadrunner Saloon on West Flamingo Road in Las Vegas. I’d been in that fine establishment before, but never at that hour.
It’s off-putting to walk through a place that only hours before bustled with the din of multiple conversations, clinking of glasses and the smell of deep-fried bar food. Now all’s quiet — “too quiet” as they used to say in the old Tarzan movies — and the place smells of eau de mop chased by the whiff of stale beer.
I was there to address the Kiwanis Club. I’m not exactly sure what Kiwanis folk do that they’d happily gather every week in a dark Las Vegas bar at 7 a.m., but it must be compelling and good stuff, because there they were, chatting and smiling while drinking bar coffee as part of a modest breakfast buffet.
I probably sound like I’m complaining. I assure you I am not. I relish speaking to community groups, because almost without fail, I learn something. This morning was no different.
In the course of my talk, I fielded this whopper of a question.
“Do you think America will come to armed resistance?”
Frankly, it caught me off-guard. I said “no” and moved on to the next question with the John Lennon paraphrase: “If you want a revolution, you can count me out.”
This being July Fourth weekend, I’d like to flesh that out a bit. After all, we’re a country founded on the revolutionary idea that all are created equal and that God gives us our freedom, not government. I’d fight for that. In fact, I have fought for that.
My quip answer to the Kiwanis Club came from the lyrics to the Beatles song “Revolution.” It goes:
“You say you want a revolution/Well, you know/We all want to change the world/You tell me that it’s evolution/Well, you know/We all want to change the world/But when you talk about destruction/Don’t you know that you can count me out/Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right/All right, all right.”
We have a number of political divisions in America, some deeper than others. But for the vast majority, no one division overcomes America’s abiding sense of individual freedom. So long as that remains at the core of our law, we’re “gonna be all right.”
Consider the Supreme Court ruling last week in the Hobby Lobby case. In a 5-4 decision, the justices said the owners of Hobby Lobby could not be forced by government to violate their religious beliefs — in this case to provide for its employees birth control labeled as abortifacients.
One guy on my Twitter feed blurted that the thinking of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia shows that “Scalia Law is a lot like Sharia Law.”
A person on the other side of the fence tweeted: “Left-wingers want to burn down Hobby Lobby.”
It’s a big mistake to extrapolate these kinds of earthy comments into the imminent fraying of the union. If anything, it is a testament to the strength of a great country that still thoughtfully struggles to discern what freedom really means.
Although that tweeter didn’t mean for it to be, comparing the Hobby Lobby ruling to Sharia law might be instructive. A Sharia ruling would command the stoning of those who have abortions, or the hanging of gays along the roadside. America’s high court said only that the intersection of secular law and religion is a tricky place to negotiate competing freedoms.
And so the same for those who think “liberals” seek to burn down Hobby Lobby. They don’t. They simply see this as a slippery-slope ruling that could erode the freedom of women to use all forms of birth control.
It is precisely at these times in which I find great joy in the experiment that is the United States of America. This is a beautiful struggle to behold on the Fourth of July.
What does freedom really look like in America in 2014?
As long as freedom in all its nuances is the heart of the national discussion, I sing: “Don’t you know it’s gonna be all right. All right, all right.”
Sherman Frederick, former publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and member of the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame, writes a column for Stephens Media. Read his blog at www.reviewjournal.com/columns-blogs/sherman-frederick.