You probably didn’t hear a bunch of balloons popping or firecrackers exploding Monday.
There likely weren’t any big speeches offered or parades through town on that day, either.
But if there ever was cause for a celebration in our country, that date would be it.
For it is the day we recognize as the birthday of the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Dec. 15, 2014 was the 223rd anniversary of the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, which spell out succinctly the individual rights we hold so dearly in America.
Our founders packed a lot of punch into the First Amendment, basically outlining the “freedom of expression” we hold so dearly in America.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. The freedom to peaceably assemble. The freedom to petition government for a redress of grievances.
Certainly, we as citizens hold those five freedoms as dearly as any others because they guarantee each of us the right to stand up and be counted in America. And they undergird the other nine amendments by giving us the right to speak out if we believe our other rights are being trampled.
Those freedoms provide us with the tools to exercise that great American pastime — to dissent. If we don’t like what the government is doing, we can express our opinions loudly and clearly, in print, on the street corner, online, across the airwaves or across the coffee shop table.
If we want to effect change in America, we know we can march in protest, write our members of Congress, fight City Hall, get out and vote, write a letter to the editor, create our own blog or choose a thousand other ways to get our message across.
We have seen in the past few months how exercising the First Amendment can drive our national dialogue:
• Public outrage over domestic violence by National Football League players led to a national discussion about how we can more effectively deal with abusers and educate others on the issue.
• Disagreement over what constitutes justifiable reasons for law enforcement officers to use excessive force continues to spark impassioned dialogue today.
• Differing opinions over whether climate change is a real threat — or even real — have permeated our discussions.
• How our nation should deal with threats around the world often took center stage during the year.
• The Ebola virus and its potential to threaten the entire world ignited an international debate about how to stop the disease in its tracks.
Our freedom to “discuss” is at the core of our being. We may not agree on much of anything, but we do cherish the right and opportunity to express ourselves.
So as we observe this 223rd anniversary of the U.S. Bill of Rights, say a word of thanks to George Mason, James Madison and others who made sure those rights were codified as the first amendments to our nation’s Constitution.
They exhibited true foresight in recognizing that the answer to expression we don’t like is not to suppress that speech, but to encourage even more speech from those with differing opinions.
We call that freedom.
Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association in Topeka.