What makes America great?

Milford. This year's winning Voice of Democracy essay for the Veterans of Foreign Wars District 20 is reprinted here in full.

12 Feb 2020 | 10:33

In these past four years I have heard the question a lot, "What makes America great?" and even "Is America great at all?"

The answer to the latter is, yes, it is, and the answer to the former is, to me, two rights stick out, the right of free speech, and the right to be free from censorship. I have been an American citizen for 18 years, or since birth. And not once have I been scared of being hurt, or silenced, or jailed, or killed for expressing my opinion. This is a right we as people often take for granted.

Sometimes I get into arguments with people over differences in opinion, and sometimes I get into spats with my friends for the same reason. But although these do not happen often, I am, in a way, lucky that they do. I am lucky that I have the opportunity to have arguments because not all people are allowed to argue.

America is great because we do not all have to have the same opinion. We do not all have to like the same public figures. We do not all have to follow the same policy, or like the same things at all. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Holmes summed it up nicely; he stated, "If there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought -- not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate."

Holmes is correct, the most freedom one can hold is the freedom to disagree with our neighbors or our government. We have options because of this. We can speak out when we think things are right or wrong; the fact that we can speak out, loudly, about matters we believe are wrong is what America was founded on. The United States was formed because of citizens who did not believe their government had their best interest in mind, and these same citizens were not given the chance to express these feelings because when they did, they were jailed or executed.

The founding fathers went to great lengths to make sure these same instances never happened again. They started the greatness of America by implementing the freedom of speech. America is a global leader, showing the rest of the world what true freedom is, trying to influence both small and large countries, to show them the importance of liberation. Many countries strive to achieve this, to achieve a true freedom of thought, but only America has perfected it.

Hand-in-hand with the freedom of speech is being free from censorship. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines censor as "to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable." Objectionable, a word that does not drive much connotation, at least to me. But objectionable, when defined, means undesirable or offensive. Censorship is the suppression of anything undesirable. Anything that someone, somewhere deemed to be against their own opinion.

If there was an antonym to the word America, it would probably be censorship. Censorship only exists in America in cases of extremism, when a post or message has the intention of truly harming someone/something. We are allowed to show so many things on TV or in the media in general that other countries deem too inappropriate; seemingly simple broadcasts such as "Modern Family" or "The Big Bang Theory" have been banned. They are American shows that most households have seen, and many have loved. How lucky we are to live in America where we can show different types of people and backgrounds on television. How lucky we are to watch shows that are allowed to grow popular and influential on the citizens. We do not worry about our favorite shows being pulled because they are "inappropriate," because inappropriate means different things to different people, and the people have the free choice to decide for themselves what to watch.

It is also becoming exceedingly obvious how lucky America is to not censor our newspapers or broadcasts, how journalists are protected under the law. We can read the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, we can read it all, because America does not set limits on knowledge. America is great because it is a country that wants its citizens to grow and evolve and be shaped by the freedoms they hold. To read the newspaper and have it disagree with the topic is American. It is the embodiment of freedom and liberty, and e pluribus unum. It means we have the liberty to have our own thoughts and our own opinions.

We are one because we think in many different ways. This is what makes America great, the ability to not be afraid of speaking out and not being afraid of being jailed for being, simply, American.

Editor's note: For more about Autumn Baker and her achievement, please follow this link.

It is also becoming exceedingly obvious how lucky America is to not censor our newspapers or broadcasts, how journalists are protected under the law. We can read the good, the bad, the beautiful, the ugly, we can read it all, because America does not set limits on knowledge. America is great because it is a country that wants its citizens to grow and evolve and be shaped by the freedoms they hold. To read the newspaper and have it disagree with the topic is American. It is the embodiment of freedom and liberty, and e pluribus unum. It means we have the liberty to have our own thoughts and our own opinions.