Of all the times I have traveled to other cities or states, or vacationed with my family on distant beaches or in the mountains, it has not occurred to me why it was not necessary to obtain permission to leave my residence, show travel credentials, provide information about where I was going or what I intended to do when I arrived.
Of the countless Sundays my family and I have attended the church of our choice, there have never been any restrictions, and therefore it has not entered my mind that this is something that should have particular meaning for me.Over the years, I have given little consideration to the privilege of being a candidate for public office, to vote by secret ballot for officials of my choice without coercion or restriction of any kind, or if I felt I had been wrongfully dealt with, to demand redress in courts of law presided over by impartial judges. Furthermore, if I should be accused of violating the law, I would be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
As I retire to my bed at night, I never consciously realize that I have the unspoken assurance I will not be dragged from my home before morning and hauled off to interrogation chambers at the slightest whims of disgruntled citizens or officials.
Each day I engage in the labor of my choice to support my family without being assigned to a certain profession in a definite location. I purchase magazines and newspapers, or listen to radio broadcasts, or watch television programs of my choice, never realizing these are also privileges guaranteed me by virtue of the fact that I am a citizen of the United States.
When did I fear a fine or arrest for discussing privately or in public subjects of a controversial nature, or criticizing a project or policy I didn't like, or a public official I disagreed with? I have taken for granted too many things for too long.
I have assumed that I will always be guaranteed my God-given rights of free agency, freedom of speech, freedom to think and make decisions, freedom to exercise the virtues of love, charity, tolerance and forgiveness - and yes, anger and retribution - the natural norms of life. I seem to have forgotten - if I was ever aware - that these blessings are a legacy given to me by blood, toil and sacrifice. Almost two hundred years ago the Constitution of the united States was envisioned and penned by men and women of vision and foresight. This Constitution has been and is my protector, my guarantor and my benefactor.
For too long I have slept in callous oblivion.
I have just returned from the South Pacific where I received my awakening. In a country that boasts a so-called democracy, I saw long lines of people - the old and the young, families with children, single men and women - begging for visas to the United States at the American Embassy.
Still ringing in my ears are the pleas of families entreating me to use my influence as a citizen of the United States to help them move to my country, or at least find some way to bring back with me their children, to a land where their freedoms could be assured and they would have opportunities to lead happy, progressive lives.
In many countries of the world this same scenario is being duplicated. some are even willing to risk their lives in flimsy boats, or resort to other devious means, when legal sources are not available, to cross our borders into a land of hope and promise.
Why this overwhelming desire to live in America? During the 18 months I was in this Pacific country the army there usurped the government by force of arms. Newly elected officials were arrested and interned and other officials sympathetic to the intent of the coup were installed. I know the helpless uncertainty one feels when newspapers, radios and other means of communication are either suspended or provide only information dictated by those who have taken power.
I know what it is like to be stopped by soldiers at roadblocks and questioned as to who I am, where I am going, and the nature of my business, and to have my car searched for weapons or incriminating papers or documents. I know what it is to be restricted by curfews, to hear sirens wailing in the streets at night and to hear the roar of army and police vehicles, and the shouts of soldiers outside my apartment.
I saw windows of shops broken and fire bombs thrown in as mobs attempted to burn the business district of the city. I know of many cases when rocks were thrown through windows, when homes were literally destroyed and the occupants thrown out into the night, ofttimes by the soldiers themselves, without warrants or justification on the pretext of seeking out enemies of the coup.
As the coup brought hardships and poverty upon an already impoverished third world country, as wages were cut and cut again, and as benefits were abolished and strikes were called, frightened people flocked to the embassies to escape.
The rays of the sun of freedom and opportunity shine down upon me as a citizen of this remarkable land. God help me search the depths of my soul for enough appreciation to warrant the blessings I have received through the Constitution of the United States. And God grant that this sun shall never set.
(M.L. Tanner is a resident of Brigham City and former cattle rancher in Box Elder County.)