A Few F-words for 4th of July

Betsy Ross_4th of JulyPatriotism has taken a hit in recent years. Especially during the 4th of July. In some circles it’s fashionable to slam the U. S. of A. — to punctuate its flaws and denigrate its virtues. Other camps seem to have confused love of country with an exaggerated sense of purpose. Either way, decorating the porch with red, white and blue bunting feels a little off kilter this year.

I’m old enough to remember the national exuberance during the Bicentennial celebration in 1976. That summer, tall ships filled New York and Boston harbors. Johnny Cash served as Grand Marshall at the U.S. Bicentennial parade in our nation’s capital on the 4th of July. There was an official Bicentennial logo and commemorative postage stamps, coins, license plates and other merchandise.

Disneyland and Disney World hosted America on Parade. Local communities painted benches, fire hydrants, mailboxes and phone booths in patriotic colors. The popular Schoolhouse Rock! series created America Rock to teach youngsters about American history and government. (Throughout the year, I proudly wore the shirt my mom hand embroidered using the Betsy Ross animated character from the series – seen here.)

That summer, the wave of patriotism drenched America from coast to coast. We loved it. It felt refreshing to celebrate our nation on the 4th of July. To acknowledge our history with a sense of accomplishment even as we emerged from some difficult moments including the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

By many accounts, America is having a difficult moment right now, in 2023. We are polarized. We are mean-spirited. We are worried.

Which is precisely why the 4th of July is a good time to pause and ponder the fundamental and enduring values we continue to hold dear. It’s okay to do that even as we acknowledge our shortcomings. And it’s possible to respectfully observe nearly 250 years of achievement from a posture of humility.

Here’s a start. A carefully curated selection of F-words worthy of celebration this 4th of July, from the pages of our own history:


“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”  Amendment 1, U.S. Constitution

“Without freedom of thought, there can be no such thing as wisdom; and no such thing as public liberty, without freedom of speech.” —Benjamin Franklin, Silence Dogood No. 8, 1722


“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports…And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.” —George Washington’s Farewell Address, 1796

“God requireth not a uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state; which enforced uniformity (sooner or later) is the greatest occasion of civil war, ravishing of conscience, persecution of Christ Jesus in his servants, and the hypocrisy and destruction of millions of souls.” —Roger Williams, 1644

“The religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right.” —James Madison, 1784

Friends & Family

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo and withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation.” —George Washington, 1783

“The foundations of national morality must be laid in private families.” —John Adams, 1778


“Let us tenderly and kindly cherish the means of knowledge. Let us dare to read, think, speak and write. —John Adams, 1765

“The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches…we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get.”  —Thomas Jefferson, 1790


“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” —George Washington, 1790

Even in a climate of discord, these patriotic F-words remind us there is much that is worthy of celebration this 4th of July. Off kilter or not, I’ll be waving Old Glory as I grill hot dogs and munch wedges of watermelon. I am thankful for the courage of those who have gone before and for the hope of those who will forge ahead in the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Happy Birthday, America!


Bonus Material

Here are a few suggested links to help you prepare for a star-spangled 4th of July:

You can find many excellent readings about religious freedom and the meaning of America at Trinity Forum.

Pick up a copy of What So Proudly We Hail: The American Soul in Story, Speech, and Song. This inspiring collection explores the American identity, character, and civic life through selections by our country’s greatest writers and leaders, from Mark Twain to John Updike, from George Washington to Theodore Roosevelt, from Willa Cather to Flannery O’Connor, from Benjamin Franklin to Martin Luther King Jr., from Francis Scott Key to Irving Berlin.

Watch fireworks and a star-studded cast perform live from Washington, D.C.  A Capitol Fourth will air on PBS stations Tuesday, July 4th starting at 8:00 p.m. ET / 7:00 p.m. CT.


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