By Spencer Amaral

Independence. When we use this word today, we likely use it to represent self-reliance, individualism, and a lack of bonds that tie us to people or things. When a high school student graduates and leaves home, we think of it as “achieving independence.” A “strong, independent woman” is one who is not in a relationship. A man who quits his job may think of it as “reclaiming his independence.”

But that’s not quite how our Founders thought of independence.

If you’ve ever seen the old “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” movies that play every year around Christmas, you may remember “Herby the Misfit Elf” who would rather be a dentist than make toys. Herby meets Rudolph, a fellow misfit, and the two decide, “We can be independent together.” This is much closer to what the Founders meant when they (together) declared independence on July 4, 1776. They knew that freedom would be short-lived if we failed to unite as a nation.

The United States declared independence from Britain, not because we just wanted to “do our own thing,” but because it was the only way we could stand up for our God-given right to equality under the law. The Founders fought a bloody revolution, but not because they wanted government-sponsored healthcare, or a “New Deal” with the king of England. All they wanted was for the English constitution to be applied fairly and equally to all the king’s subjects, whether they lived in London or Boston. Equality under the law is the cornerstone of justice and the rule of law. If some people can break the law and get away with it while others are arrested and punished for committing the same act, there is no real justice or equality, but only corruption, pay-offs, and political vengeance.

As we celebrate our independence this year, we must remember that our Founding Fathers did not fight and die with the battle cry, “I can do what I want!” They fought and died with the shout, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Thanks to their sacrifice and the grace of God, we now enjoy liberty, equality, and justice in our daily lives, to the point that we even take it for granted. Our revolution was a desperate struggle to preserve the principle that all men are created equal, endowed by God with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Our Founders believed that these divine gifts are worth fighting for, and even dying for. We will forever owe them a great debt for their sacrifice.

As Ben Franklin said after signing the Declaration of Independence, “We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” Just as Herby and Rudolph became independent together, we must continue to use our freedom to love our neighbors, to serve our communities, and to unite our country around the principle that all men are created equal. If freedom is warped into the idea that we are free from obligation to God or to anyone else, such a life will swiftly collapse on itself, and take society with it. But so long as we strive to use our liberty to love God and love our neighbor, we can hope to remain free.