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Op-eds

Rep. Chris Stewart: Amid protests and reform, we truly need ‘liberty and justice for all’

Deseret News , June 19, 2020

This is a critical moment in our nation’s history. At a time when we should be unifying with one another, we are instead demonizing each other, creating a perception that the world is filling with darkness and fear. But I will never quit believing that most people are good. If we ever quit believing that, we lose our ability to solve our most pressing problems.

With the eruption of pain and anger that has engulfed American cities, including Salt Lake City, many Utahns are feeling heightened anxiety and conflict. Legitimate concerns about race have sometimes been overshadowed by the violence, hate, and anger directed at law enforcement.

Neither the protesters nor the police deserve to be judged by the actions of the most extreme among them. The intense focus on the issues that divide us is not serving any of us well. On the most important principles, we are united.

We are a nation with an ambitious goal of providing liberty and justice for all. It’s a heavy lift, but one to which we have aspired for more than 200 years. We recite those words in the Pledge of Allegiance. This shared goal is not controversial. It is part of our identity as Americans.

Though our experiences with liberty and justice vary, our commitment to secure them equally for everyone should not. When I saw the video footage of George Floyd, dying and unable to breathe, I was horrified. This is not what justice looks like. But nor is the death of retired police captain David Dorn, an innocent 77-year-old African American man murdered, ironically, during protests against racism and brutality.

It caused me to reflect on the diverse military men and women with whom I stood guard to protect the freedom we all enjoy. People from all backgrounds served shoulder to shoulder. It didn’t matter to me, then or now, where we were from or what color we were. We worked together to serve our fellow Americans. Did they feel the sting of injustice as they defended liberty?

We all have a desire to live up to the aspirational ideals upon which our country was founded. The solution to these problems will not come from violence, looting or hate. Justice will not be served by abolishing the police. Understanding will not result from arguing on social media.

The solutions lie in coming together, not standing apart. We are one nation with a shared commitment to the notion that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. I believe these words. God did create us equal. But imperfect men and institutions have sometimes failed to maintain God’s intention of equality. But we can become equal. We can become one by treating one another as the brothers and sisters we are.

It costs us nothing to reach out, listen, understand and advocate for any reform that serves to secure equal access to both liberty and justice. 

I belong to a faith tradition that teaches people to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. But how can we bear burdens we do not understand?

Instead of looking to one big solution, perhaps the answers lie in millions of small ones. Instead of becoming defensive or fighting over the questions that divide us, we can make a difference by taking the opportunity to extend our circle of friends and acquaintances. That means getting to know our neighbors better — especially neighbors who don’t look like us, don’t worship like us and who don’t necessarily agree with us.

Abraham Lincoln said, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

We have an obligation to live up to the ideal of charity and justice for all. If there are some among us who feel their lives don’t matter, that cannot stand. It’s not OK.

This is not a left or a right issue, but a human issue.

If we fight together to ensure everyone’s freedom, we can guarantee that the values for which so many diverse Americans have fought, the principles of liberty and justice for all, can be more than an ideal, but a reality.

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