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What It Means to Be an American Today

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August 11 and 12 of 2017, a rally called “Unite the Right” was organized by a group called Alt-Right which was comprised of a bunch of white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-confederates, neo-Nazis, and various types of militias to go against the idea of taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. Although this group has very racist and negative outlooks, this wouldn’t be acceptable without the freedoms we have today. So this essay will speak about what it means to be an American. Being able to have religious freedoms, freedom of speech, and equal opportunities to succeed regardless of who you are and what you stand for without the fear of prosecution – that’s what is an American.

According to BBC News, nearly 71% of Americans are Christian, leaving the 29% to be a combination of Protestant faiths, Catholics, Evangelical, Liberal, Mormon, Jehovah Witness, or other. This variety of religious beliefs wouldn’t be acceptable without the rights that protect us from religious prosecution. In other countries at the time when America was first being “developed,” if you were to openly say that you didn’t believe in the state religion, typically catholic, you would face social ostracism or persecution. Luckily, the first amendment of the Constitution says that the government cannot establish a state religion like so many other countries had been doing for ages, granting us the opportunity to freely practice our preferred religion. The First Amendment, along with the rest of bill of rights, was first suggested September 25, 1789 and was finally adopted December 15, 1791. The idea of freedom of religion was a concept created by Roger Williams, William Penn and later founding fathers such as James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. They wanted to separate state from church because of all the conflict that it caused; they wanted to be able to create a set of laws that could be used for all religions, beliefs, morals, etc. for a more fair system of government. Going back to the Alt-Right rally, the first amendment protects them from any prosecution for expressing their ideals and “religious” beliefs freely despite the fact that they are white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-confederates, neo Nazis, etc., and go against most morals.

The Westboro Baptist Church, which has similar beliefs as Alt-Right, is a church located in Kansas that is infamous for its ideology. Its website, named “Godhatesfags.com,” has stirred up quite a bit of controversy, however it’s fine in the eyes of the law because it isn’t a crime since it’s protected by the First Amendment that protects freedom of speech as well as religious freedom. Because of this amendment, you can freely express your feelings about any topic on the internet, through protest, or in any other ways as long as you don’t act upon it thus turning into a hate crime which has a penalty of up to 10 years or even life depending on the magnitude of the violence. Articles, journals, poems, art, novels, etc. are all examples of freedom of speech and the creator cannot be prosecuted in any way because of their right of speech regardless of the content. In 1633, the astronomer Galileo Galilei was convicted of heresy, a belief that is contrary to that of orthodox religious, for expressing his belief that the solar system was heliocentric. He was locked in his house and wasn’t allowed to leave because of his ideals. Today the church or the government cannot do anything like that to you based on your opinions or anything you say just because it’s contrary to theirs or goes against them in anyway. In Charlottesville, Virginia, where the protests are being held, protesters are holding up signs stating whether or not they are with or against the idea of taking down the statue of Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park. Going around holding signs that are against the government’s opinion is totally O.K. and safe, at least safe from prosecution.

As I type this essay, I am at school surrounded by all of my peers of different backgrounds and cultures who are also typing their essays. Ironically, most of us waste our days on our IPhones and take for granted the opportunities given to us. America has given us the amazing opportunity to free education that come with different types of resources, such as these computers, regardless of who we are or what we believe so that we can all succeed. In an article by National Geographic, in Afghan there is little to no schools where females can get an education; girls have no other choice but to practice a tradition called “bacha posh” which is translated as “girl dressed as boy’ in Dari. In these types of countries, males are considered superior and are the only ones who can access a formal education. Luckily America has given us the opportunity to access a free, formal education despite our sexual identity. There is only one school for females in Afghan called School of Leadership and sadly, here in America where we all have access to a free, safe, unbiased formal education system, so many are giving it up because they believe it’s not important.

To conclude, what does it mean to be an American? To be an American isn’t defined by who you are, where you were born, or what you believe, it’s the way that you choose to live your life and pursue your “American dream” with the rights that you were given like the freedom of religion and speech as well as the equal opportunities that have been given to us.

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