Column: Don’t take the freedom to assemble for granted

Bill Scholl is the archdiocesan consultant for social justice. You can email him at: socialjustice@archkck.org.
Bill Scholl is the archdiocesan consultant for social justice. You can email him at: socialjustice@archkck.org.

by Bill Scholl

Recent events in Burma make me recall childhood dinnertime dilemmas. When faced with a course I did not care to consume — usually vegetables — my parents would remind me how important it was to eat because the poor children of (in my case, it was Cambodia; for you, it might have been Ethiopia) have nothing to eat.

The Burmese people should inspire us to appreciate our right to assembly and encourage us to use it. Having no permission from the government of Myanmar, thousands of Burmese, led by their religious leaders, peacefully marched to protest the corrupt policies of their government. They marched because they are tired of what their country has been doing to the poor. They marched because they can no longer stand the myriad acts of injustice carried out by those in power. They marched because they are patriots who want a better future for their country.

This patriotism has awarded them imprisonment and assassination. They are not allowed to march but, yet, they did. These events cause me to reflect. I am perfectly free to march to protest anything I want in this country. And yet I do not. To date, the Myanmar government has admitted to the deaths of nine, but it is thought that the true number is more in the hundreds or perhaps thousands, and thousands have been arrested. Concentration camps have been erected, and soldiers are sent on nightly raids to maximize fear in the populace.

The massive protest was only made possible in Burma because of the courage of religious leaders. Thousands of Buddhist monks took to the streets, and their clergy denied religious ceremonies to members of the military and their families. One soldier defected because he said he was sure he’d go to hell if he carried out his orders to attack a monastery.

When was the last time you ate your civic vegetables and did something for your country? While by Burmese standards, our country is a civic paradise, such a place does not come cheap and there are many things we could do to fight injustice right here. As Catholics we should educate ourselves on the social doctrines of the church and how they inform the issues, pick a cause, write Congress, and, by all means, vote.

Thomas Jefferson, the man largely responsible for our right to assemble, the same right that our Burmese neighbors are literally dying to have, said: “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.”

Fifty years ago Burma was a free and thriving country. We as citizens informed by our Catholic social conscience need to eat our civic vegetables and use our rights lest we some day lose them.

Bill Scholl is the archdiocesan consultant for social justice. His e-mail address is: socialjustice@archkck.org.

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