The brassy patriots who disparage those who protested across cities in the United States this past Saturday reveal a constitutional ineptitude that defies their self-proclaimed patriot fervor. When we protest we are patriotic. When we demand that those who govern us do so justly and without discrimination but as equals before the law, we are patriotic. The First Amendment is a beautiful, powerful and empowering right in the Bill of Rights. Those who stepped into the streets on Saturday, December 13th in protest of the failure of prosecutors and grand juries to protect unarmed, African-American civilians were living up to the constitutional vision of a citizenry empowered and protected from tyranny. Here is the amendment: “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.”
Look at that last clause. By the tens of thousands, Americans did exactly that when they demanded justice for the victims of police officers who, charged with protecting citizens, instead within seconds pulled a trigger and ended a life. As religious persons and patriots, Riverside Church congregants took to the streets and marched for justice and equal protection under the law. I am proud to pastor a church that puts feet to its words, that acts in the highest sense of patriotism and the deepest religious values of human dignity. We pray, we sing, we march in the light of God. We are not asking our beloved country to endorse a religion. We are asking that our politicians, officers of the court and police and military who protect us to do so out of a devotion to the constitution and bill of rights. Anything less will not do. Holding to account those who violate those sacred documents is a patriotic act. May peace and justice one day walk down our streets hand-in-hand. Until that day, we will continue to march and pray.