Justin Constantine, Lieutenant Colonel, USMC (ret)
Lambda- Sigma (James Madison University) ’90

As we approach the Fourth of July, I once again think about what this particular holiday means to me. As a veteran, and as a Marine who was wounded in Iraq, I have had the opportunity to think about freedom, liberty and our nation’s values in a number of settings. But like everything in life, even our guiding principles and their interpretations can be quite difficult.

A Nation Of Progress

Is America perfect? Do we have everything figured out? Have we as a nation attained the highest level of individual freedoms and liberty? Of course the answer to all of these questions is “No,” but America has always been on a path of improving itself and striving for our cherished ideals. Our own Declaration of Independence states that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Imperfect, Unyielding

But are we equal, and as a society are we fighting to ensure equality for all? In Iraq and Afghanistan, we struggled very hard to ensure that everyday people there had the opportunity to vote, yet here at home we institute voter ID laws that arguably raise significant barriers to a certain portion of our society. We lamented the fact that very few economic opportunities existed for women there while we tried to change that dynamic, yet in America women earn less than 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.
And in our constant efforts to convince the Shi’ites and Sunnis to work together and trust each other, we shared that we consider all people equal; yet just this week the divergent reactions to the Supreme Court’s ruling about homosexual marriage indicates that we in fact do not consider all of God’s children to be equal.

New Levels Of Freedom And Liberty

So while we are clearly a work in progress, it is critical for us to continually strive to reach new levels of freedom and liberty. At the end of his second term, President Reagan said, “I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life … After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm.
And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.” And he was right – America is that shining city on the hill.

Time, Care, And Attention

But just like anything else worth having in life, those ideals require constant care and attention. To remain that shining city, we need to continually strive for more freedom and more liberty, and to persistently break down barriers to both. In fact, our Founding Fathers envisioned that we would continue to take such action – that is why they designed a process for constitutional amendments, a system of checks and balances, and a vibrant democratic process.
They understood that America will always be a work in progress, and that is a good thing.

My Perspective, My Lesson

And perhaps that is the lesson for me as we approach July 4, and I think about serving our country and what it is that we really stand for. In my own mind, I am trying to resolve the many aspects of our diverse country, and maybe you are too.
Just like any other veteran, I believe so strongly in our country and our ideals that I swore an oath to support and defend our Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and would bear true faith and allegiance to that Constitution. I want every other American to experience, enjoy and benefit from the same freedoms and liberty as I do.
Ultimately, I hope we can successfully encourage those same ideals around the world as well.

Our Passion United

We continue to be that shining city, but only because we embrace the idea of an open society where we encourage many different voices. As Americans, we are united in our belief that a successful society is one that embraces change, while at the same time ensuring basic freedom and equality for all.
In his Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln told us that, “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.” That is at our core, and that is who we must continually strive to be. That is freedom. And as an American, a veteran, and a Kappa Sigma, that is what I am thinking about this year.