Editorial: Keeping our freedoms alive

  • Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Today is a great day in history for Georgetown and South Carolina, and yet it’s an exceedingly troubling day as well for these our United States of America.
This morning, Feb. 13, 2012, in Myrtle Beach, a black civil rights activist — the first African American to be Chief Justice of the State of South Carolina since Reconstruction — is being inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame.
Along with Ernest A. Finney Jr. of Sumter as the contemporary inductee, Thomas Lynch Sr. is being inducted into the Hall of Fame as a deceased or historic inductee.
Lynch built Hopsewee Plantation in Georgetown County. He was a well-respected statesman and the second-wealthiest man in South Carolina. He was a delegate to the congress that ultimately signed the Declaration of Independence.
Due to his illness, however, he was not able to participate as fully in the debate as he would have liked. In his stead, his son Thomas Lynch Jr. was appointed to the Continental Congress.
The Declaration of Independence shown here bears the son’s signature. On the left portion of the founding document of our nation, there is a gap between the names of Edward Rutledge Jr. and Thomas Heyward Junior. Then there are the names of Thomas Lynch Junior and Arthur Middleton.
The blank spot was left as a sign of respect for Thomas Lynch Sr.
Father and son Lynch participated in the formation of our country. The father was paralyzed in February 1776 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He died in December 1776.
The son was in the South Carolina militia and was appointed to succeed his father. Thomas Lynch Junior signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776. He returned to South Carolina but retired from public life because of a malingering fever contracted during his militia service. He and his wife were lost at sea in 1779 while on a trip in an effort to improve his health.
They were slave-owners and their rice and indigo production and wealth were due largely to the efforts of the enslaved Africans and African Americans who worked the crops.
Finney, some 200 years later, fought for civil rights for blacks.
He served as chairman of the South Carolina Commission on Civil Rights, in the state General Assembly and on the Supreme Court of South Carolina.
The three men — with vastly different backgrounds — have all fought for freedom and liberty.
Today, our country faces huge challenges in the world and at home.
The current controversy over Obamacare and whether or not Catholic and other faith-based institutions should be forced by the federal government to fund contraception and abortion-inducing “morning-after” pills is fraught with fundamental questions.
In the years immediately following the end of the Revolutionary War, other South Carolinians played important roles in the Constitutional Convention. When the core document of a new form of government was approved on September 17, 1787, it was a hard-won document.
Some of the concerns the delegates raised included the role and size of the national government.
Some thoughts outlined in the U.S. Archives illustrate those concerns.
Anti-Federalist Samuel Bryan of Pennsylvania was worried that the planned federal government would go too far. His “Centinel” essays

… assailed the sweeping power of the central government, the usurpation of state sovereignty, and the absence of a bill of rights guaranteeing individual liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. "The United States are to be melted down," Bryan declared, into a despotic empire dominated by "well-born" aristocrats.
The common working people, Bryan believed, were in danger of being subjugated to the will of an all-powerful authority remote and inaccessible to the people. It was this kind of authority, he believed, that Americans had fought a war against only a few years earlier.

— From A More Perfect Union: The Creation of the United States Constitution, by Roger A. Bruns, 1986.

Ultimately, those concerns led to the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.

The First Amendment states:

“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.”

Many people of all denominations are rightly concerned that the current effort by the Obama administration is a thorough-going violation of freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the right of conscience. On Friday night a special program on Fox News “Hannity” assembled some 20 pastors, priests and rabbis from a multitude of faiths.
They were in general agreement that the government’s actions were over-reaching and excessive. The men of faith said these were not issues just related to Catholics and their belief that contraception and abortion-inducing “morning-after” pills are wrong. The proposed regulations are a direct violation of Constitutional guarantees.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson and nine other attorneys general were talking on Friday of a possible challenge to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services edict.
While President Barack Obama offered what he called a compromise last Friday, that still requires insurance companies to provide contraception and “morning-after” abortion pills. There are many who say his compromise is no such thing, because it still involves a federal edict that someone will have to pay. And, they continue, it’s still an assault on freedom of religion.

Here in Georgetown, we urge our citizens to engage in critical, thoughtful readings of the core documents of our system of government.
The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights and explanations of the importance of these “Charters of Freedom” are gathered together on the Web site of the National Archives.

http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/charters/

It’s important generally to be familiar with the core documents that govern America.
Thomas Lynch Sr. and Thomas Lynch Jr. were key men in the founding of our country.
Ernest A. Finney Jr. is a contemporary man who has played an enormous role in expanding those core rights to our fellow citizens who happen to be black.
It’s up to all of us, regardless of the color of our skin or our religious faith, to be aware of what these documents say about our form of government.
And it’s also vital that we hold those in government accountable for their actions.
Take the time to learn and to participate in our country.
We salute retired Chief Justice Finney, and the Lynches for what they have done for our people and our state.
It’s up to each of us to keep those freedoms alive.

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